Thousands of Myanmar refugees on Saturday greeted democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi at Mae La camp on the Thai side of the border where many have lived for two decades.

The refugees, mostly ethnic minorities dressed in traditional costume, cheered and waved placards as Ms. Suu Kyi arrived at the camp 50 kilometres north of Mae Sot.

Ms. Suu Kyi toured the camp and held talks with leaders but was not allowed by Thai administrators to deliver a speech to the refugees, sources said.

The congested camp of bamboo houses with thatched roofs holds 50,000 refugees of the Karen, Kachin, China and Muslim minorities. Some have lived there for 20 years. Half the population was born in the camp officials said.

Hopes ran high that Ms. Suu Kyi could help them return safely to their homes in Myanmar someday.

“We want to go back to Burma, but not now,” said Ma Bee, 47, a Karen refugee who has lived in Mae La since 1995.

An estimated 145,000 refugees live in border camps near Mae Sot, Tak province, 500 kilometres north of Bangkok. Most come from the Karen State, where the Myanmar army has been fighting the Karen National Union for the past two decades.

The government of President Thein Sein that took office in March 2011 has signed a tentative ceasefire with the Karen, but scepticism runs high.

“Full participation for refugees in all planning for return” read one placard in Mae La.

The refugees held flags of Thailand and Myanmar’s National League for Democracy (NLD).

Ms. Suu Kyi arrived in Bangkok on Tuesday to attend the World Economic Forum on East Asia. She also visited Myanmar migrants working in the Thai fisheries industry.

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