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The recent democratic elections in Myanmar were undoubtedly a positive step for the country’s long-suffering citizens. But significant challenges remain and many refugees are still unsure when it will be safe for them to return home.

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Myanmar (also known as Burma) held historic elections in November 2015. The first democratic elections since the beginning of military rule 50 years ago. The National League for Democracy party (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi, who was the face of Myanmar’s movement for democracy for so many years, won a landslide victory. 

But what does this result mean for the people of Myanmar, especially the thousands of refugees who currently live in neighbouring countries like Thailand? 

Many refugees are hopeful that the NLD under Aung San Suu Kyi will bring stability to Myanmar. This may even allow them to return home after decades living on the Thai/Myanmar border but the political future of the country remains uncertain. The constitution of Myanmar, brought into law during military rule, is expected to bar Aun San Suu Kyi from assuming the role of President. The restrictive constitution also stipulates 25 per cent of all parliamentary seats to be reserved for the military, making progress very hard to realise. 

More than 120,000 people have fled Myanmar’s internal conflict, with many living in camps along the Thailand border. Many of the younger refugees have lived their whole lives inside the camps. After decades of fighting, some of the villages their families came from no longer exist. Many fear they will be forced to leave the only home they have ever known, and return to an uncertain future. 

Although they’re optimistic that the election result means they may one day be able to return home, they are also understandably cautious. There are still many issues of human rights and justice that need to be solved before they will feel secure enough to return. 

Many refugees from Myanmar see the recent ceasefire as just as important as the election. The country’s military president Thein Sein negotiated the agreement with some rebel groups from the country’s ethnic minorities, but not all the groups signed, and refugees living on the border are still uncertain whether they will be safe if they return. 

Soon, however, they may not have a choice. Thailand is no longer registering official refugees, meaning that new arrivals can’t get the ID cards they need to be resettled. Inside the camps, rations are decreasing every year due to funding shortages, and many refugees are struggling to survive. 

Thanks to your generosity over many years, families in the refugee camps have been provided with basic food rations, shelter, skills training and other essential assistance. With your continued support - and that of the Thai government - we are committed to standing alongside refugees from Myanmar until the day comes when it is safe for them to return home.

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