US ends Myanmar refugee programme

The United States has wound up a special resettlement programme for Myanmar refugees in camps on the Thai-Myanmar border, the United Nations said Wednesday.

The last candidates for the US "group resettlement programme" were accepted on Jan 24, marking the end of the 9-year scheme.

The US initiated it in 2005 to ''accept as many Myanmar refugees as possible under simplified procedures'', said Vivian Tan, information officer for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Bangkok.

''Since 2005, the United States has welcomed more than 73,000 Burmese who have resettled in towns and cities across the United States,'' said assistant secretary Anne Richard of the US Department of State's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.

There are still an estimated 120,000 Myanmar refugees in the nine camps in Thailand, including about 40,000 who were not registered by the Thai authorities.

The remainder either did not apply for resettlement in the US or did not qualify as they were among the non-registered refugees, Ms Tan said.

Most of the refugees living in the border camps in Tak province are members of the Karen ethnic minority group. They fled to Thailand more than two decades ago to avoid a Myanmar military offensive in the Karen State.

''The end of this chapter does not mean that resettlement is closed completely,'' said Mireille Girard, UNHCR's representative in Thailand. ''UNHCR will continue to identify and submit refugees with specific protection needs on an individual basis to various countries.''

Another 19,000 Myanmar refugees from the Thai camps have been resettled in other countries including Australia, Canada, Finland and Japan in the last nine years, UNHCR said.

Myanmar has seen positive political developments since elected President Thein Sein came to power in March 2011, but the UNHCR has expressed concerns about security problems in the Karen State for returnees.

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