YANGON — Daw Aung San Suu Kyi vowed Friday to work towards bringing home hundreds of thousands of Myanmar people who fled her impoverished and war-torn country under its former military leaders.
The democracy champion was speaking during her first visit as a state leader to neighbouring Thailand, where legions of low-paid Myanmar migrants prop up the economy with back-breaking labour.
Over 100,000 refugees who fled ethnic conflicts with the Myanmar army are also kept in Thai camps along the border.
“What we want is that all people displaced from our country should come back to us and should come back to the kind of conditions which they will never want to move again,” Suu Kyi told a press conference in Bangkok.
“For this we will need to do a lot of work,” she cautioned, stressing that it would take time to revive an economy battered by mismanagement under the former junta, whose five-decade reign plunged the country into brutal poverty.
“Job creation is of the greatest importance for our country. Everywhere I’ve been in Myanmar people have talked about their need for jobs,” she said.
After a decades-long campaign against Myanmar’s repressive military leaders that included years under house arrest, Suu Kyi is now steering the country’s first civilian government in generations after sweeping historic November polls.
She was speaking Friday next to Thai junta leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha, who said the two governments would work together to repatriate the refugees when both sides agreed “the situation is right”.
Most of the refugees in the camps are ethnic Karen displaced by a lengthy war with Myanmar’s army.
The violence abated following a 2012 ceasefire, but conflict with other ethnic rebel groups around the country continues.
The two leaders were speaking after signing an agreement aimed at bolstering rights for Thailand’s Myanmar migrant labourers.
Pushed across the border by economic desperation, many arrive in Thailand to find themselves at the mercy of abusive employers, corrupt officials and trafficking gangs.
But there is still a long way to go before economic opportunities and wages in their home country will match those available in Thailand.
On Thursday Suu Kyi received a rapturous welcome from thousands of her countrymen when she visited a seaport outside Bangkok, where tens of thousands of Myanmar migrants work in fish processing plants and on ships — often for less than the 300 baht (US$8.50) minimum daily wage.
Many in the crowd were eager to share their hardships with the popular leader.
Suu Kyi was initially scheduled to visit a refugee camp in Ratchaburi province Saturday but the visit was later cancelled