Thailand's military junta says it has struck a deal with Myanmar's military to repatriate the refugees, who have been living on the border for more than two decades.
The Thai army says refugees will only be returned under what it calls, "the right conditions" and that there won't be any voluntary repatriation.
Presenter: Sen Lam
Speaker: Sunai Phasuk, senior researcher, Human Rights Watch in Thailand
LAM: What are your concerns regarding this planned deportation of displaced people from the Thai-Burma border?
SUNAI: Well two points here. First of all this is an ongoing policy of every successive Thai government and now the military junta just reaffirm its position that refugee will have to be sent back. But the second point, which is more important is that there is no existence of any right conditions for the return of refugees. The situation in Burma remains unsafe, both in terms of the armed conflict and human right violations, land rights haven't been addressed at all up to this point. There is no supporting livelihood available in Burma. So all in all, there are no conditions for the return of refugees.
LAM: So Sunai, you don't have any faith in the Thai militaries undertaking that deportation will only take place if conditions are right?
SUNAI: Yes, exactly that. We cannot see in any foreseeable future that the conditions for a safe, voluntary return of refugees along the Thai-Burmese border can be possible. But we can, at the same time, look into the other side of the coin. What will come as the next step, after the military junta in Thailand announced that policy is we fear there will be a new step taken by the Thai authority to filter the populations in the camp, to update their registration data base, that will push quite a bit number of people out of the camp and that will leave them vulnerable within Thailand both for human right violations, exploitation as illegal migrants, that is the other side of the coin that should be looked into as well.
LAM: And Sunai, the Human Rights Watch, I understand will be having talks with the government soon. Can you tell us about that?
SUNAI: Well, we are aiming to raise our concerns with Thai authorities about the announcement of the Chairman of Military Junta, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, basically addressing that what we already discussed that the one year timeframe shouldn't be put in place, because it is not about when, how many months from now, how many years from now refugees will be sent back. It should be more about how Thailand, Burma and the rest of the international community can work together to ensure that refugees can return safely and voluntarily into Burma, that means that there is no armed conflict going on, there is no human right violations, any form of persecution going on, livelihood need to be created in Burma, that should be the focus of policy instead of setting this unrealistic time frame that refugees to be sent back within a year.
LAM: But the Thai military might argue that some of these displaced people, indeed many of them, have been in that area for over 20 years?
SUNAI: That is right, because they couldn't go back home over the past 20 years, armed conflict and human right violations. They are still going on.
LAM: Is it sustainable to let them stay there?
SUNAI: Well, this is the concern, so if the concern of Thai authorities is about sustainability of the refugee camps along the border, why don't the Thai authorities, including the new administration of military junta, work harder with the Burmese authorities, work harder with the rest of the international community to make it possible to create a supporting conditions in Burma, to make it possible that way, instead of trying to squeeze the population within the camp, with this announcement that happen every year, with the cut of rations, with very tight control of living conditions inside the camp.
LAM: And just very briefly Sunai, can you tell us the makeup of these people who are displaced and who are likely to be sent back. Are they mainly Muslim Rohingyas from Myanmar or are they a mixture of nationalities?
SUNAI: Well. Sen, within the camp, the Thais only allow those fleeing armed conflict, they apply very strict definitions, so basically, they are mostly ethnic minorities from Burma, The Karen, the Mon, comprise of the major population within the camp. But there are also people outside the camp, then you have the Burmese, as well as the ethnic Rohingya who flee armed conflict in Rakhine State and religious persecution ever since then. So there are actual groups of the groups of the population, but what the junta specify in the announcement was the population in the camps, so basically ethnic minorities fleeing from armed conflict and human rights violations.