This morning, we all woke up to hear the terrible news about Thai authorities secretly smuggling three refugee families back into Burma against their will. Nine women, four children, and a 9-month old baby were among those who were forced to return to the war zone. They are the first batch of 3,000 Karen refugees that the Thai officials plan to deport back into Burma before February 15th 2010. In addition to the worsening human rights violations, there is a great concern over landmines planted all over the border area by DKBA (Democratic Karen Buddhist Army) and the Burmese Army. Just last year in August, a 13-year old boy lost his leg and an 8-month pregnant woman lost her foot after stepping on landmines.
It is utterly despicable and shameful on the part of the Thai authorities to terrorize and bully these vulnerable individuals to return to Burma where human rights abuses and possible death await them. Coupled with duplicity and lack of credibility are a complete lack of humanity and blatant disrespect for international humanitarian law by the Thai government.
In order to circumvent the shame of carrying out this appalling act, it has been reported that Thai soldiers are dressed in civilian clothing and vehicles and are forcing the refugee families out of the camp and into Burma. It is disconcerting to see that even in the presence of foreign NGOs, Thai officials have managed to deport three families back into Burma. With the weekend coming up and in the absence of foreign observers in the area, we fear that more covert deportation of refugee families will take place. A 60-year old Karen refugee said, “The Thais are like the Burmese regime. All my life I have been on the run and now it feels like I have to run away from the Thais.”
The Karen Human Rights Group claimed that the DKBA wants the refugees repatriated to provide labor for logging business in the area. One refugee awaiting the possible deportation said, “If we are forced to go back, the DKBA might make us be porters again.”
“What can I do if my children are playing with birds and the bird flies into a landmine area?” said a refugee father, who expressed concerns and sadness at being forced to take his family to a heavily landmine infested area. The Thai authorities also split up family members during the deportation as one husband remained in the camp while his wife was deported back to Burma this morning.
In June 2009, more than 3,000 Karen refugees crossed the borders into Thailand as they fled from a military offensive by the Burmese Army and DKBA against the ethnic civilians. Both groups are notorious for committing human rights violations, including the use of slave labor, forced conscription of minors and sexual violence.
The international community and many human rights groups condemn this cruel and inhumane act by the Thai officials. Zoya Phan, International Coordinator from Burma Campaign UK and a Karen refugee herself from Burma, gave a press release this morning in which she stated, “What is clear is that Thailand will not stop the deportations because it is the right thing to do, only because they are shamed into stopping them. It is therefore vital the international community keep pressure on the Thais to stop this abuse of human rights of refugees. The government of Thailand will be responsible for any death or injury to the refugees they force to go back.”