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Thailand urged to protect refugee rights

Human Rights Watch says military government should clarify plans to deport decades-long displaced people from Myanmar.

Last updated: 16 Jul 2014 08:59
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General Prayuth said Myanmar and Thailand would ensure a smooth return for refugees [Reuters]

A human rights group has said it is concerned for the safety of 130,000 refugees from Myanmar, following a crackdown by the military government that led to hundreds of thousands of Camodians fleeing the country.

Sunai Phasuk, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, said Thailand's military government should clarify its plans for the repatriation of the Burmese refugees, many of whom are undocumented and have been living in Thailand for decades.

"We are concerned every time this issue is raised, especially under the current conditions that the country is being ruled by the military," Sunai told the AP news agency.

His comments come after last month's mass expulsion of 200,000 mainly undocumented Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand, after the military government announced it was launching a crackdown on those employing them

Prayuth Chan-ocha, Thailand's army chief, said last week, after the Myanmar supreme commander visited Bangkok, that Thailand and Myanmar would facilitate their safe return according to human rights principles, but he did not give any timeframe for when the repatriation would take place.

In response, Phasuk said: "We would like the [military government] to explain in greater detail to make sure the deportation will abide by international principles and will not leave these people facing danger."

We are concerned every time this issue is raised, especially under the current conditions that the country is being ruled by the military

Sunai Phasuk, Human Rights Watch ,

He called on both Thailand and Myanmar to consult those affected and international organisations before finalising any repatriation.

Those affected are mainly ethnic minorities who have been living in displacement camps in Thailand for nearly three decades. They are not formally acknowledged as refugees, however.

Thailand's previous civilian governments have repeatedly declared the Burmese would be sent back when their safety was guaranteed.

However Veerachon Sukhontapatipak, a Thai army spokesman, said: "We are not at the stage where we will deport people because we must first verify the nationality of those in the camps," army deputy spokesman Veerachon Sukhontapatipak told Reuters news agency.

"Once that is done we will find ways to send them back. There are about 100,000 people who have been living in the camps for many years without freedom. Thailand and Myanmar will help facilitate their smooth return."

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