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Cablegate: Material Support Issue Could Cripple U.S.

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Summary. Several positive changes have marked
recent Thai policy toward the approximately 140,000 Burmese
refugees located in nine camps along the Thai-Burma border.
The Thai have agreed to the U.S. proposal to offer
resettlement to the entire, 9,000-person camp of Tham Hin
after rejecting such large-scale resettlement for many years
because of a fear that it would pull more Burmese into
Thailand. The Thai for the first time are officially
encouraging NGOs to provide enhanced schooling and vocational
training opportunities for camp refugees. The Thai are
considering official sanction for Burmese refugees to work.
These developments, described as unprecedented by senior NGO
officials along the border, are occurring for several
reasons. One of the most important, since it shows the
international community,s commitment to sharing the Burmese
refugee burden, is the willingness of third countries,
particularly the United States, to resettle large numbers of
Burmese camp refugees. The emerging Thai vision of the
future thus combines improvement of the lives of the camp
refugees with third country resettlement.

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2. (SBU) Unfortunately, the material support issue, currently
under USG consideration, could stop significant U.S. refugee
resettlement from Thailand in its tracks if it causes the
denial of U.S. resettlement to large numbers of Burmese
refugees because they at some point provided even minimal
support to a group opposed to the Burmese government that
could be defined as a terrorist organization under U.S. law.
This issue could halt and even reverse the positive trend in
Thai refugee policy because it would remove a key lynchpin of
that policy. Also at stake is U.S. credibility as a partner
in addressing the Burmese refugee issue in Thailand. End

--------------------------------------------- ------
Thai Agree to Resettlement of Burmese Camp Refugees
--------------------------------------------- ------

3. (SBU) There are increasing indications that positive
changes in Thai policy toward the approximately 140,000 Karen
and Karenni refugees in the nine camps along the Thai-Burma
border are broadening and becoming institutionalized. The
first indication that significant change was occurring was
Thai openness last year to the idea of U.S. resettlement for
the approximately 9,000 refugees in Tham Hin camp. The
resettlement option for many years had been off the table
because of a Thai concern that it would pull more refugees
across the border and a Thai hope that refugee repatriation
to Burma might become possible.

4. (SBU) Last summer the Thai formally agreed to a U.S.
proposal for a Tham Hin program and the start-up of that
program is now imminent. Other countries have already begun
significant resettlement out of other border camps, albeit at
numbers much lower than those planned by the USG. The Thai
position toward those efforts remains positive and barring
some unforeseen development, is likely to remain so.

--------------------------------------------- ----
Forward Movement on Improving Refugee Livelihoods
--------------------------------------------- ----

5. (SBU) Early this year, another significant positive Thai
policy change occurred. The Thai Ministry of Interior issued
a letter to NGOs operating in the Burma border camps that
formally encouraged them to offer enhanced educational and
vocational training opportunities to camp refugees.
Previously, some of these activities had existed, but they
were ad hoc, small in number, and never formally sanctioned
by the Thai government. Subsequently, UNHCR and the NGOs,
including the USG-funded International Rescue Committee and
the American Refugee Committee have been developing programs
to take advantage of this new opening. Importantly, the Thai
government is also taking an active role. In July the
Cabinet approved a budget for the Ministry of Education (MOE)
to open learning centers in the refugee camps to provide
Thai-language training to the refugees. MOE is also studying
the possibility of permitting camp refugees to apply to Thai

6. (SBU) Since the Thai opened the door to enhanced
educational and vocational opportunities, UNHCR, NGOs, and
Refcoord have encouraged the RTG to consider favorably the
logical next step of officially permitting camp refugee to
work. The arguments that have been used are that the RTG has
already issued temporary work permits to approximately
960,000 Burmese outside the refugee camps, the Thai Ministry
of Labor has determined that there is demand for another
500,000 workers, and the number of working age refugees in
the camps is small compared to the number of work permits
already issued. During a visit to the border camp region
earlier this year, Prime Minister Thaksin directed that Thai
Ministries study the possibility of refugees working. Thai
National Security Council and Ministry of Interior officials
recently told UNHCR and Refcoord that this issue is under
active consideration.

7. (SBU) The most recent positive development links refugee
resettlement and refugee protection. Senior Thai National
Security Council and Ministry of Interior officials have told
UNHCR and Refcoord that the RTG is beginning to consider what
to do with the refugees who would remain behind in Tham Hin
refugee camp, likely because they did not choose the
resettlement option, after the completion of the U.S.
resettlement program. Thai thinking is still in very early
stages, but these officials have said that one option would
be relocation to a new site that would offer employment
opportunities to the refugees.

Why Thai Policy Has Shifted

8. (SBU) There are several reasons for these Thai policy
shifts. SPDC military ascendancy and diminished conflict in
eastern Burma, together with enormous flows of Burmese
economic migrants have led the Thai to realize that the major
cause of cross-border movement is no longer fighting in
Burma, though this push factor and generalized oppression
continues to exist. Instead, Burma,s declining economy and
work opportunities in Thailand are driving the flows. The
number of persons in the refugee camps is now a small
percentage of the estimated 1.5 million Burmese in Thailand.
A second factor is Thai sensitivity that the conditions in
the refugee camps, while satisfactory in terms of meeting the
refugees' basic needs, provide them no future. This casts
Thailand in a bad light, particularly given the recent
worldwide focus on resolving protracted refugee situations
and preventing "refugee warehousing."

9. (SBU) Third, there is a growing Thai realization that the
camp refugees may never be able to return to Burma. As a
result, it is in Thailand's own interest to think more in
terms of integrating them into Thai society, particularly
given the demand for imported labor. Finally, the success of
the U.S. resettlement programs for the Hmong and the urban
Burmese has helped convince the Thai that new approaches to
long-standing refugee problems that involve resettlement can

Institutionalization of Policy Change

10. (SBU) We believe that these policy shifts are beginning
to become institutionalized and therefore more likely to be
sustained over time. When indications of positive Thai
refugee policy shifts began, they were largely voiced by
General Winai, the head of the Thai National Security
Council. Compared to other Thai officials, Winai is more
open-minded and sympathetic to refugees. This raised the
question of whether the changes were linked to one man and
therefore reversible when Winai departed from the scene.
However, the activities of the Ministry of Education,
approved by the Cabinet, and the positive statements
mentioned above from senior MOI officials indicate that this
is indeeda policy shift, and not just the views of one
progressive individual.

--------------------------------------------- ---------------
3rd Country Resettlement is Key Element of New Thai Approach
--------------------------------------------- ---------------

11. (SBU) From UNHCR and Refcoord discussions with the RTG,
third country resettlement clearly plays a central role in
the emerging Thai vision of the future. The Thai hope that
resettlement will gradually reduce the Burmese camp refugee
population and thereby permit the closure and/or
consolidation of the refugee camps over time. The Thai also
view resettlement as concrete evidence of the international
community,s commitment to help address the protracted
Burmese refugee situation. This makes it easier for the Thai
in turn to do their part by considering ways to improve the
livelihood of the refugees who will remain in Thailand. The
imminent start-up of the Tham Hin resettlement program and
the expectation that most of the Tham Hin population will
choose the resettlement option has now spurred the Thai to
start thinking in concrete terms, as mentioned above, about
ways to mesh resettlement with enhanced opportunities for the
refugees who will remain behind.

Material Support Issue Threatens Progress

12. (SBU) The material support issue has arisen in the
context described above. Under the Patriot and Real ID Acts,
refugees could be denied resettlement if at some time in the
past they gave support, even minimal support such as a bowl
of rice, to an organization that could be defined as a
terrorist organization under U.S. law, whether or not it is
on an official list of terrorist organizations. Many Burmese
refugees are from ethnic groups which have organizations that
are opposed to the Burmese government and could be caught by
the U.S. legal definition of a terrorist organization. The
USG has been considering the material support issue for well
over one year but has yet to find a workable solution.

13. (SBU) In the meantime, many Burmese refugee cases have
been placed on hold. About 60 percent of ethnic Chin refugee
cases referred to the U.S. program in Malaysia (affecting
about 350 persons including some minors who are particularly
vulnerable) are now on hold pending a decision on material
support inadmissibility. Of almost 100 Karenni refugees
interviewed in Thailand in November, two-thirds have been
placed on hold because of material support. These numbers
continue to grow as more cases are interviewed by DHS and
deferred. Thousands of Tham Hin refugees will face a similar
situation if the material support issue is not resolved by
March 2006, when DHS adjudications are expected to begin.
This would cripple the Tham Hin program just as it is getting
off the ground.


14. (SBU) The positive changes in Thai policy towards the
conditions of Burmese refugees in the border camps are in a
nascent stage and will likely unfold in an incremental manner
over at least several years. However, it is not unreasonable
now to envision a future in which the camps gradually
disappear through a combination of third country resettlement
and local integration of the remaining refugees within
Thailand. This would be an extremely positive humanitarian
development for the refugees, who in some cases have been
languishing in camps for twenty years.

15. (SBU) Comment (cont.) The United States can legitimately
claim some credit for the positive evolution of Thai policy.
The Hmong and urban Burmese resettlement programs, which have
moved about 17,000 refugees to the United States in less than
two years, have shown the Thai that the international
community is willing to help share the refugee burden and
that new approaches can lead to the resolution of
long-standing refugee problems. Third country resettlement
is a key element in the new Thai policy toward Burmese
refugees. If the material support issue is not resolved soon
and in a manner which permits U.S. resettlement approval for
a substantial percentage of Tham Hin refugee applicants, the
RTG would likely reconsider and possibly reverse the positive
movement forward in its overall Burmese refugee policy. In
addition, since the United States proposed the Tham Hin
resettlement effort in the first place, the U.S. role and
credibility as a partner in addressing the Burmese refugee
problem in Thailand would be seriously undermined. Finally,
our ability to encourage the Thai to provide asylum to
Burmese refugees would be undercut if the USG makes a
determination that thousands of those refugees are not
qualified for admission to the United States.

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