Wednesday, June 25, 2008

More than 30,000 Burmese Refugees Resettled

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS / BANGKOK
Wednesday, June 25, 2008

More than 30,000 Burmese refugees living in camps in Thailand have been sent to third countries in what the United Nations said on Wednesday had become the world's largest refugee resettlement operation.

Most of the refugees are ethnic Karen people who had been sheltered in nine refugee camps along the Thai-Burmese border.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that 30,144 refugees have left Thailand to start new lives abroad since the resettlement operation began in January 2005. But the camps remain home to 123,500 refugees and asylum-seekers.

“Some of the refugees have been here for nearly two decades,” UNHCR regional representative Raymond Hall said on Wednesday. “Some were born in refugee camps, grew up there and are now raising their own families in refugee camps. For them resettlement offers a way out of the camps and the opportunity for a fresh start in life.”

The UN and human rights groups say that over the years the Burmese army has burned villages, killed civilians and committed other atrocities against the Karen, who have long fought for autonomy from the central government.

Some activists have charged that Burma’s ruling junta is waging a genocidal campaign against the Karen and other rebel ethnic groups.

Hall said prospects for the refugees to return to Burma or settle permanently in Thailand were dim. Nearly 21,500 of the resettled refugees have gone to the United States, while Australia has received 3,400 and Canada 2,600.

Other resettlement countries are Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Burmese refugees are now leaving Thailand for resettlement at an average rate of more than 300 a week, the UNHCR said.

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