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Resettlement of Myanmar refugees from Thailand tops 30,000 – UN agency

Resettlement of Myanmar refugees from Thailand tops 30,000 – UN agency

Myanmar refugee children in Mae La Camp in Thailand
The number of Myanmar refugees that have left Thailand to begin new lives in third countries since January 2005 topped 30,000 this week, marking a major milestone in the world’s largest resettlement operation, the United Nations refugee agency said today.

Almost all of the 30,144 men, women and children that have left since the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) began the resettlement programme were living in nine camps along the Thai-Myanmar border after fleeing fighting and oppression in their homeland.

“Some of the refugees have been here for nearly two decades. Some were born in refugee camps, grew up there and are now raising their own families in refugee camps,” said UNHCR Regional Representative Raymond Hall. “For them, resettlement offers a way out of the camps and the opportunity for a fresh start in life.”

The majority of those that have left – 21,453 – have gone to the United States, while Australia has received 3,405 and Canada 2,605. The rest have gone to Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

“We are very grateful to resettlement countries for making it possible for so many refugees to get a new chance at building productive lives,” Mr. Hall said.

UNHCR noted that some 300 Myanmar refugees leave Thailand every week for resettlement, and nearly 8,000 more could leave by the end of this year.

Nearly 124,000 refugees and asylum-seekers remain in the nine camps along the border.

Meanwhile, relief efforts are continuing in the wake of the deadly cyclone which battered Myanmar in early May and left as many as 2.4 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that a joint relief and early recovery assessment team, involving 250 staff from UN agencies, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and 18 Government ministries, has confirmed the need for continued relief efforts to cover unmet needs.

One component of the survey – the Village Tract Assessment – showed that nearly three quarters of households do not have enough food to last more than a week, and nearly half are dependent on humanitarian aid to eat. “Considering that 42 per cent of all food stocks were destroyed, continued food assistance is required,” the team noted.

Meanwhile, 60 per cent of households say their access to clean water is inadequate, and many are now depending on rainwater since ponds are full of salt water. In addition, while there has been no major disease outbreak to date, preliminary data show that open defecation has more than doubled, posing serious risks for the spread of diseases.

The assessment will be used to revise the humanitarian appeal, which is set to be issued in early July. The $201 million appeal launched following the cyclone is currently 66 per cent funded.

More than 134,000 people are dead or missing as a result of Cyclone Nargis and the subsequent tidal wave which struck the South-East Asian nation, causing the greatest damage to Ayeyarwady Delta area and Yangon, the country’s most populous city.