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World Refugee Day observed in Mae Sot

Chiang Mai (mizzima) – The United Nation High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and related organizations have held activities in honor of World Refugee Day in Mae Sot, a Thai-Burma border town, with the aim of raising awareness and understanding among the Thai population of the vast Burmese migrant and refugee population in the area.

Yoshimi Saita, head of the UNHCR field office in Mae Sot, said in her opening remarks on Wednesday that there is a continuous flow of refugees crossing from Burma into Thailand, particularly, at the moment, those fleeing ongoing fighting in Burma's Thasongyang District. “We thank the Thai government for not forcing those villagers to return home,” he said, according to a report in the Thai newspaper Komchadluek on Thursday.

An NGO worker in Tak told Mizzima that activities were organized for two days, June 24th and 25th, with various activities to raise awareness and understanding of local people about refugees.

Tak Province, which includes Mae Sot, is home to some half-dozen refugee camps, servicing primarily a Karen population. The camps are home to over 100,000 people.

The events also aimed to provide information about the organizations that work with refugees about what they do and how they operate. Additionally, there was a photo exhibition on the conditions and problems refugees are facing.

Recently, an Assumption University poll found a lack of knowledge on the part of the Thai population concerning the refugee problem and the role of organizations such as the UNHCR in addressing the situation.

The study, conducted in June, 2009, found a majority confused about the status of refugees, with nearly three-quarters believing refugees are like illegal migrant workers, compared to barely over 20 percent who understood they are people who have fled from war or other risks and recognized by international refugee organizations.

Dr. Noppadol Kannika, Director of the Assumption University Poll Research Center, said that a majority of those sampled are of the opinion that the Thai government, ASEAN and UN are not acting effectively enough to address the refugee problem.

Noppadol added: “It is about 60 years now that Thailand has not signed the UN Convention on Refugee Status, causing refugees in Thailand to not fully receive their basic human rights, such as education and health services and the right to find a job. In contrast, illegal migrants have more rights than the refugees, prompting many refugees to flee from the camps, with some ending up as victims of human traffickers."

He recommends that the Thai government, ASEAN and the UN raise the profile of refugees during the next ASEAN meeting and seek to construct a practical strategy to confront the problem.

First observed in 2001, World Refugee Day falls on June 20th.

Last Updated ( Friday, 26 June 2009 16:40 )  

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