3,000 Karen refugees who fled to Thailand last year to escape violent conflict in Burma have been ordered by Thai authorities to return to Karen state by February 15. The refugees, the majority of whom are women and children, are being sent back to a heavily land-mined area. Already, five Karen refugees who have returned have become victims of landmines, including a 13-year-old boy and a woman who was 8 months pregnant. Additionally, there is a shortage of food in the area, which is under the control of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), an organization known for human rights abuses against civilians such as forced labor, executions, torture, mutilation, forced recruitment of child soldiers, theft, extortion, and forced taxation.
In the face of such dangerous conditions, only one family out of 3,000 people said they wish to return to Burma. One refugee stated, “This is not voluntary; we are given no choice but to leave. I don’t know if I will make it home alive.” Organizations such as the Human Rights Commission of the Thai parliament, the Burma Campaign UK and the Karen Women Organization have all called upon the Royal Thai Government not to endanger these refugees by forcing them to repatriate into a war-zone. Zoya Phan, the International Coordinator of Burma Campaign UK, stated that “Sending these refugees back to Burma is sending them back to possible death, slave labor or forced recruitment as soldiers.”