Karen community fearful for relatives

CONCERNED: Bendigo Karen refugee leader Ashin Moonieinda. Picture: JIM ALDERSEY
CONCERNED: Bendigo Karen refugee leader Ashin Moonieinda. Picture: JIM ALDERSEY

THE Karen community in Bendigo holds grave fears for relatives living on the Thai-Burma border in light of recent announcements by the Thai government.

The Thai military government announced it was planning to repatriate 100,000 Burmese residents living in refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border last week.

Karen community leader Ashin Moonieinda said people had talked about their fears for family members with him at a recent community meeting.

"I feel very, very sad because before the army occupied Thailand it was very hard for refugee families ... now, it's more hard for refugee families," Mr Moonieinda said.

He said despite major political reforms in Burma since 2010, the country was still not safe for Karen people.

"They have a ceasefire agreement but they are still fighting," Mr Moonieinda said, referring to a 2012 agreement between Karen separatist groups and the Burmese military.

He said his sister was living in Burma and she had to be prepared to flee from the army at any given moment.

"The problems are bad, especially between the ethnic groups," Mr Moonieinda said.

Although his sister was in Burma, Mr Moonieinda said many people's families had been living in Thai refugee camps for years, and would have nowhere to go if made to return to Burma.

Mr Moonieinda has raised his concerns with Member for Bendigo Lisa Chesters, who will discuss the issue with her Labor Party colleagues and Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop.

Ms Chesters said she was also keen to raise the issue in parliament.

“Australia has a role to play to be a good global citizen and make sure we are advocating for people’s rights across the world," Ms Chesters said.

"It's also a reminder that we need to be part of a regional solution regarding refugees and increase our refugee intake.

"The Karen people I have met with are just beautiful, energetic and committed people to our country and to our community."

The Thai military government announced last week it had almost reached a deal with Burma's government to repatriate Burmese refugees.

Following media reports on the proposed deal, Thailand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on July 17 that no specific time frame for repatriation had been set.