Statement by The European Karen Network
The European Karen Network strongly condemns the Royal Thai government for again forcing Karen refugees into Burma, despite the risk to life from Burmese military attacks.
On September 30th, 2022, a group of students sheltering on the Thai side of the Thai-Burma border were forced to return to Burma territory, crossing the fast-flowing flooded Moei river. One of the boats that was transporting the students back to Burma hit another boat and nearly sank. Students were forced to swim to safety and were left with severe trauma.
Refugees sheltering in Thai territory have been pressured to return to Burma, where they find themselves at risk of life. Some refugees have been forced to return multiple times already as they repeatedly cross into Thailand when facing imminent danger from attacks, including shelling and airstrikes by the Burmese military. The Thai soldiers ask displaced civilians to return to Burma when there is no active fighting or shelling happening on the other side, knowing that Burmese military attacks can resume at any moment.
Villagers, including children, the elderly and sick, are facing a shortage of essential items, especially food and medicine, due to the heavy rain and flooding occurring in the area. Villagers forced back by Thai authorities do not dare to return to their village, and hence they are staying on the riverbank.
On August 24th, Thailand passed a new Anti-Torture Bill, which enshrines (in Section 13) the principle of non-refoulement. Thailand ratified the Convention Against Torture in 2007, however failed to draft legislation that fully protected the notion of non-refoulement, until now. The principle of non-refoulement must be upheld.
“United Nations agencies and international governments must publicly and privately engage with the Royal Thai government to persuade them to stop forcing refugees to return to conflict zones”, said Nant Helen Buhtoo, Co-Chair of the European Karen Network.
“The Royal Thai government cracks down on refugees fleeing the Burmese military while at the same time cooperating with the Burmese military and while Thai companies help fund the Burmese military. Thai companies, including state-owned companies, help pay for the bombs and the bullets forcing refugees to flee to Thailand,” said Nan Kyi Aye, Chair of the European Karen Network.
The Royal Thai government should look at its own role in helping to create refugees rather than forcing them back into danger.