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The UN refugee agency has received worrying reports that a growing number of the Myanmar people had been fleeing their country by sea, risking their lives on rickety boats to find safety and stability elsewhere, a UN spokesman said Friday.

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Hundreds of thousands of refugees along the Thai-Myanmar border face the prospect of spending more time in camps because conditions are not yet conducive for their organised return.

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Kachin IDPs receiving food at Wo Chyai camp in Laiza town. Photo: UNIC

Three war refugee camps in Laiza Township received food and medical supplies from UN agencies on September 17, according to Doi Pi Sar, In-charge of the Kachin Refugee Relief Committee.

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U Aye Win, Spokesperson of the United Nations said that the representatives of UN agencies went to the Kachin Independent Organization (KIO) headquarter in Laiza Township, Kachin state on September 7, to provide 3000 war refugees with food supplies for a month.

The UN agencies also provided the refugees with hygenic material and medicines, besides food supplies.

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(Photo: Myanmar Red Cross Society)

The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) has refused to accept Kachin State Red Cross's offer to provide household appliances for more than 1000 Kachin refugees living in KIO controlled areas.   

The Kachin State Red Cross made the offer to the KIO through the Peace Coordination Group (PCG) but were turned down, according to PCG member Lamai Gum Ja.

The Red Cross has already got permission from the President’s Office and the Kachin State government, but KIO said it will not accept the offer.

“We plan to give household appliances to more than 1300 families. But the KIO refuse to accept the offer. So, we cannot go there. We cannot do anything,” Gea Nit, Spokesman of the Kachin State Red Cross, told Mizzima.

The KIO turned down the offer because in accordance with its central committee policy, they cannot accept aid from the government until they establish stable peace with the government, according to Gae Nit.

The Kachin State Red Cross is a branch of Myanmar Red Cross and therefore, the KIO refused the offer. If donors from Denmark and Singapore can make the donations directly without routing it through the government the KIO might accept the offer, said Gae Nit.

The household appliances were donated by the Denmark Red Cross and the Singapore Red Cross, but their representatives could not come to Myanmar. Therefore, the Kachin State Red Cross and Myanmar Red Cross planned to travel to the area to distribute the household appliances.

The Denmark and Singapore Red Cross have already donated relief material for refugees in Myitkyina, Waimaw and Bhamo townships. This time they planned to provide relief for war refugees in Laiza, Kachin State.
Similarly, in December 2011, the KIO had refused to accept aid donated by the Kachin State Rescue and Resettlement Committee and relief material such as rice-bags and jackets donated by MP Thein Zaw.

When Mizzima inquired Dau Hka, a member of a KIO 'work group’ about plans to hold peace talks between KIO and the Union Peace Making Committee, he responded that he did not have information about when the meeting would be held.   

“With regard to the proposed meeting with the government, we will have information only after ‘central’ informs us. The meeting will be held, but I still do not know the date. I talked to  the members of MPC about three days ago,” he said.

On May 30, the government and the KIO agreed to further dialogue, but peace talks have not been held yet.

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Migrant laborers in Thailand working on a fishing boat in Rayong Province in Thailand. Photo: AFP

Government officials are being urged to quickly develop clear and concrete policies regarding the length of time workers from Myanmar can stay in Thailand to prevent vulnerable migrants from being tricked by unscrupulous visa brokers and officials.

There are an estimated 3 million foreign migrant workers in Thailand, more than 80 per cent of whom originate from Myanmar.

According to a memorandum of understanding between Thailand and Myanmar, migrants from Myanmar who work in Thailand for four years must return home for three years before becoming eligible to return to Thailand.

Four years ago, in July 2009, migrants from Myanmar working in Thailand began to undergo a nationality verification process, to allow them to be issued with documents to work legally.

Thousands of Myanmar migrant workers who have been “verified” have now completed, or almost completed, four years work in Thailand.

But worker’s rights groups are warning that there is mass confusion surrounding whether or not they must leave the country, and for how long.

The State Enterprise Workers’ Relations Confederation of Thailand, the Thai Labour Solidarity Committee, the Migrant Worker Rights Network and the Human Rights and Development Foundation said on Tuesday that they are “deeply concerned” after receiving reports of migrants being told they must return to Myanmar for one day, one month or even one year, in order to be allowed to return to work legally in Thailand.

Others have been tricked into paying up to 15,000 baht for fake passports and documents, the groups said, damaging progress that had been made toward regulating the migrant workforce.

A statement from the organisations said migrant workers frequently carry out “dirty, dangerous and demanding jobs” in Thailand, but continue to face “significant exploitation and confusing piecemeal government migration policies”.

“There has been no policy clarity or official announcement,” the statement said. “These workers are being tricked, exploited and extorted by Thai and Myanmar brokers, agencies and officials through misinformation about visa extensions or the need to return home and enter Thailand through expensive unregulated systems.

“Significant numbers of migrants have paid up to 15,000 baht for new passports, often with new names, thereby forfeiting previously earned social security and labour protection rights and falling into situations of fresh debt bondage and passport confiscation.

“Other workers and employers are using fake documents, discarding passports altogether and becoming irregular, thereby defeating the success of past regularisation.”

The statement from the workers’ rights organisations said the four-year return policy “has never been realistic” for workers, employers or the Thai and Myanmar economies, and called on officials to urgently publicise clear and concrete information on the rules relating to migrant workers.

“Workers need to remain in Thailand to support their families in Myanmar; employers don’t want to lose their trained workers at times of labour shortages; and Myanmar is not ready to receive back migrants to develop its opening economy,” the statement said.

This article first appeared in the Bangkok Post on August 21, 2013.

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