Up to 120,000 Burmese refugees in Thailand could return home within a year, if recent talks between Thai and Burmese officials are concluded successfully.
A Thai National Security Council official said on Thursday, the new Burmese government has raised hopes that a repatriation process will take place, although the exact date is unknown.
One of the encouraging signs is that the Burmese government "is clearing landmines along the borders, preparing to build shelters and other infrastructure... to be ready within one year", the NSC said in a statement, citing its Secretary-General Wichean Potephosree.
Wichean, who visited Naypyitaw last week, discussed the issue with Aung Min, a minister in the President's Office, who said the Burmese government will also provide training and jobs for the returning refugees.
The Thai-Burma Border Consortium, a non-profit group that provides material and food to around 120,000 refugees, recently visited Burmese officials to discuss the prospects for establishing an office in Burma, in preparation for a repatriation process at some future date.
The statement also said Burma wants Thais "to invest in building industrial estates" on its soil to employ the tens of thousands of potential returnees.
The NSC's comments came as Human Rights Watch released a report this week strongly condemning Thailand for failing to meet international standards on the treatment of refugees.
The kingdom has not ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and has no law to protect refugees, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation, police harassment and arbitrary detention, the HRW report said.
“Thailand places Burmese refugees with the unfair choice of stagnating for years in remote refugee camps or living and working outside camps without protection from arrest or deportation,” said Bill Frelick, HRW's refugee programme director.
After a new quasi-civilian government replaced the long-ruling junta in Burma last year, Thailand announced that it wanted to shut the border camps, but HRW praised Bangkok for not rushing to close the facilities.
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