UNHCR concerned over Thai forced return of Myanmar displaced

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The UN refugees agency on Tuesday raised concerns over Thailand's move to forcibly return a group of displaced Myanmar nationals on Christmas day, saying that conditions were not met for safe returns.

"The UN refugee agency is concerned over the circumstances of the return of some 166 Myanmar nationals seeking temporary protection from Thailand on 25 December," it said in a statement.

Thai authorities had expelled a group of displaced people from Myanmar -- including 50 women and over 70 children -- to their home country, even though the group had told the UNHCR that they were not ready to return due to security concerns.

"UNHCR appeals to the Royal Thai Government that returns should take place on a strictly voluntary basis, and only when conditions are in place to return in safety and dignity," stressed the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

"These conditions were not met on December 25," it noted.

"In the past few weeks, UNHCR had already expressed its concern to the Royal Thai Government over the hasty manner in which some returns took place, where some persons returned home only to have to flee again when fighting resumed shortly afterwards," it added.

Among the recently returned group, many had fled their villages on more than one occasion since November due to clashes in the region.

In early November, about 20,000 people fled Myanmar into Thailand to escape fighting between government troops and ethnic rebels.

© 2010 AFP

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