Magazine article New Internationalist

Uncertainty for Refugees

Magazine article New Internationalist

Uncertainty for Refugees

Article excerpt

The Burmese government has begun discussions with Thailand about repatriating refugees from camps across the border.

On the face of it, this is good news. The hundreds of thousands of civilians - mostly from Karen and Karenni ethnic minority groups - who fled during 50 years of violence and insurgency under military rule, finally have the chance to return home.

Yet the news is being met with mixed reactions in the self-run camps. 'If it's possible, I'm happy to go back. But the fighting needs to stop [first],' says Shew Hlaing, who lives in Mae La camp, now home to approximately 40,000 refugees and one of nine refugee camps in Thailand.

He escaped his village with his wife and two small children in 1990, after being forced to act as a porter for the Burmese military - a brutal task that led to his brother's death.

For him, the camp has offered refuge. His children have shelter, schooling and enough to eat, due to the work of The Border Consortium, a partner of British-based charity Christian Aid, which has supported almost a quarter of a million refugees living in the camps since 1984 and is now helping people to prepare for the eventual journey home.

For many like Shew Hlaing, a return to Burma still doesn't feel like an option. …

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