Hollywood star and Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations refugee agency Angelina Jolie has called on the Thai Government to allow greater freedom of movement for tens of thousands of refugees confined to makeshift camps after fleeing neighbouring Myanmar.
Ms. Jolie spent yesterday listening to refugees in northern Thailand telling of the difficulties they have faced over two decades living in closed camps.
“I was saddened to meet a 21-year-old woman who was born in a refugee camp, who has never even been out of the camp and is now raising her own child in a camp,” the actress said after her visit to Ban Mai Nai Soi camp, home to 18,111 mainly Karenni refugees.
“With no foreseeable chance that these refugees will soon be able to return to Burma [Myanmar], we must find some way to help them work and become self reliant,” Ms. Jolie added.
Some 111,000 registered refugees sheltering in nine camps along the Thai-Myanmar border are restricted from leaving the camps and as a result unable to earn a living or receive higher education, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
At a boarding school for orphans and children separated from their parents, Ms. Jolie told two teenage girls who feared returning across the border to finish their education that “I hope we can work with the Thai authorities to speed up the government admissions process and that you will not be forced to go back to Burma if danger remains.”
Local authorities have yet to process some 5,000 people who fled to northern Thailand’s Mae Hong Son province between 2006 and 2007, the last time there was significant fighting in Kayah State just across the border in Myanmar.
And throughout last year, there was a steady trickle of refugees from Myanmar into Ban Mai Nai Soi and three other camps in the province, mostly fleeing forced labour and other human rights abuses.
Recent media attention has focused on the large number of stateless Muslim refugees making the perilous trip from northern Myanmar to Thailand in rickety vessels. UNHCR has recently gained access to 78 of the Rohingya boat people held in detention centres in the south of the country to determine their need for international protection.
Ms. Jolie noted that witnessing the Government’s hospitality towards the 111,000 mostly Karen and Karenni refugees over the years “makes me hope that Thailand will be just as generous to the Rohingya refugees who are now arriving on their shores.
“I also hope the Rohingya situation stabilizes and their life in Myanmar improves so the people do not feel the desperate need to flee, especially considering how dangerous their journey has become,” she added.