In preparation for World Refugee Day – held on June 20 each year– the Karen Women’s Organization (KWO) held a workshop on “Refugee Rights and Repatriation”this month.
It said today is “a day to give thanks to those countries, like Thailand, that host Burmese refugees,” who now number up to 140,000 people in camps along the Thailand-Burma border.
At a time when Burma and others, including nongovernmental organizations, are talking about refugee repatriation, the KWO said it “wants to be sure that even refugees are listened to.”
It noted that on Aung San Suu Kyi in her acceptance speech last week in Oslo for the Nobel peace prize talked about cuts in funding for Burmese refugees and “donor fatigue,” while also calling on the international community to do more.
“Donor fatigue expresses itself precisely in the reduction of funding. 'Compassion fatigue' expresses itself less obviously in the reduction of concern. One is the consequence of the other. Can we afford to indulge in compassion fatigue?” asked Suu Kyi. “Is the cost of meeting the needs of refugees greater than the cost that would be consequent on turning an indifferent, if not a blind, eye on their suffering?”
KWO Secretary Eh Kler said, "If we have a choice, no body wants to become a refugee. I still remember the day when I was forced to leave my village. I did not plan to do it but the Burmese army entered our village and started shooting, so we all had to run for our lives.
“None of us planned to leave our country and become refugees in another country. So now if there is a possibility for us to return to our homes, we want to have a real test of freedom and to be fully included in planning our return.”
She noted that in the past, she had said, “Nothing about us, without us. But today, I want to say ‘Nothing about refugees without refugees.’"
She said there is a lot of media attention on the current peace process in Burma, but there is little change on the ground for ethnic people.
“In fact, we have seen more human rights violations, land confiscations, increased Burmese military presence, forced labor, killing and continued fighting in some areas,” she said. “It is not safe for refugees to return to Burma. It is not safe for refugees to be excluded from discussions and planning about their return. There is a lot of fear and not enough freedom.”
The KWO said it would like to “call on all those sitting at the tables and making decisions about the lives of refugees to listen to our voices, and to genuinely include us. We want to see refugee representatives at every table.
“We want to see women representatives at every table. Refugee return will not be safe unless we are listened to every step of the way,” it said.