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Many returnees still looking for a better life

Many returnees still looking for a better life

U P to 40 percent of almost 400,000 Cambodian refugees repartriated from Thai border

camps are unable to make ends meet three years after the UNHCR program began.

The repatriation was seen as one of the U.N. peacekeeping mission's most successful

operations.

But recent studies show only a handful of the returnees have become self-sufficient.

In contrast, most families from the border face a daily battle fending for themselves.

A recent study by the Battambang-based NGO Village Development Group said many returnee

families were reduced to foraging for survival, with 40 per cent of them unable to

meet "basic daily needs."

"These families had no reliable income. None of this bottom 40 percent of returnees

in the villages had a plan for resolving their problems," the report on the

study's findings said."That meant of course that they had absolutely nothing

for medical treatment or for whatever else could happen," said Sister Joan Healy,

co-author of the report, titled Vulnerable in the Village.

It followed an eight-month study based on a random sample of 300 families in the

northwest province of Battambang where 117,000, or one-third, of the returnees were

repatriated.

Other surveys found similar results. The Indochinese Refugee Information Centre of

Thailand's Chulalongkorn University said 34 percent of returnees were living hand

to mouth.

Chris Horwood, of the Mines Advisory Group said a failure to provide resettlement

areas free of mines had worsened the problem.

"There was a total lack of appreciation of de-mining.

"There was a huge delay and a total lack of planning, total lack of prepareness

and [it was] totally irresponsible to effectively allow returnees to go to mined

areas," he said.

Serge Ducasse, head of UNHCR in Cambodia, acknowledged difficulties had occurred

and estimated 20-25 percent of returnee families were living on a "day-to-day

basis."

But he said that the mammoth repatriation operation was a "reasonable success"

and that it was the responsibility of the Cambodian government, not UNHCR, to provide

for the returnees.

Ducasse said the country's social problems would worsen if the government favored

repatriates over the local population.

"It would not have been fair of the government to give repatriates full priority,"

he said, arguing that refugees in the camps were given many privileges such as free

medical treatment and education, services not available to other Cambodians.

At the root of the problem is a shortage of farm land for the new Cambodians, the

NGOs claim.

The government, in a report to an international donor meeting earlier this year,

noted the development of urban areas had received too high a priority while "food

security must be secured" especially in the rural areas.

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