The United Nations refugee agency today urged Thailand not to forcibly return a group of some 166 Myanmar nationals who fled their country amid renewed fighting and are currently seeking temporary protection from the Royal Government.
On 25 December, the Thai authorities asked the group from Myanmar to return to their villages from the Wa Lay temporary site, located at the Pob Phra District in Tak Province, according to a news release issued by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The group, which includes 50 women and over 70 children, told UNHCR that they were not ready to return because of security concerns. Many of them had already fled their villages more than once since early November after fighting erupted.
UNHCR urged the Thai Government to adhere to the internationally accepted principle of non-refoulement, which prohibits returns to a situation of danger.
“While strongly appreciating Thailand’s continued policy to allow access to its territory for Myanmar nationals when fighting occurs, UNHCR appeals to the Royal Thai Government that returns should take place on a strictly voluntary basis, and only when conditions are in place to return in safety and dignity,” the Geneva-based agency stated.
“While the majority of Myanmar nationals currently seeking temporary protection in Thailand express their wish to return their villages of origin when conditions permit, they should be allowed to make a free and fully informed decision when to do so,” it added.
UNHCR said it has already voiced its concern to the Thai authorities over the “hasty manner” in which some returns took place, where some persons returned home only to have to flee again when fighting resumed shortly afterwards.
In November UNHCR assisted over 15,000 refugees who fled into northern Thailand after fighting broke out between ethnic Karen rebels and government troops in the Myawaddy area of Myanmar.