By THE NATION
While fighting still rages in parts of northern Myanmar such as Kachin and Shan states, much of Kayin (Karen) state where many of the refugees hail from has been relatively peaceful, despite the continued presence of government troops and landmines.
The peace and the advent of Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratically-elected government has boosted hopes that many of the 100,000 refugees still in nine camps along the border – set up in the mid-80s – may be able to return in the next year or two.
Meanwhile NGOs such as the ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency) and the French group ACTED (Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development) have been helping refugees prepare to go back to Myanmar once conditions improve.
Vocational training courses have been specifically geared towards needs in the Myanmar labour market, so that the refugees can find employment and secure livelihoods once they return.
The demand for skilled labour is high in Myanmar and there are not enough trained workers to meet job market needs.
Over the past decade nearly 100,000 refugees have resettled in countries overseas, notably the US, Canada, Australia and a few European nations.
But UN officials hope that vocational training funded by the European Union and the US State Department of Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, with support from Thailand’s vocational education agency, will help those remaining be more confident about a safe and voluntary return. The Thai Office of the Vocational Education Commission (Ovec) has been cooperating with the ADRA and ACTED to provide technical skills to refugees since 2013.
The EU has contributed more than 3.5 million euros (Bt13.6 million) to the Vocational Training to prepare the “Refugees for Return” project. This has seen nearly 10,000 refugees trained at vocational colleges in four provinces.
Qualified trainees received certificates that are endorsed by Myanmar and Thai vocational training bodies.
New frameworks of cooperation between Ovec, ADRA and ACTED will enhance the partnership between Thai training agencies and foreign NGOs to provide technical skills to refugees to increase their employability when they return to their homeland.