Plight of the Karen Refugee
The Plight of the Karen Refugee
I am often asked why Handclasp is committed to helping people in Thailand. This article by David Lamb reporting for the Los Angeles Times gives a broad scope to the problem we are called to assist the Karen people of Northern Thailand.
MAE SOT Thailand
Their battle for self-rule is one of the world's longest wars, a struggle that spans 52 years and generations of death. But today the ethnic Karen of Myanmar are facing a harsh awakening: Their long, lonely journey may be leading them nowhere.
Here along the Thai border with Myanmar, once Burma, more than 100,000 Karen are cloistered in 11 camps of bamboo huts spread out along the frontier. There are thousands more refugees living outside the camps.
International attention to their plight - minimal in the best times - is waning. Their military capability is dwindling. The refugee population is growing, at the rate of 500 a month, and even Thailand, their traditional protector, increasingly considers them a burden. Some politicians want their repatriation eased to within 3 years.
The Karen and East Timorese represent the last large concentration of externally displaced people in South East Asia, where the refugee population has sunk to its lowest level in more than 20 years.. "We see no help from the East" says the Director of the Karen Refugee Committee. "But we look to the West and see moral support, maybe even a solution".
Myanmar's army overran the Karen National Union stronghold at Manerplaw in 1995, pushing the Karen - many of whom fought for Britain during WWII even as Burma supported Japan - near or into Thailand. Meanwhile, Myanmar's Government, a repressive band of soldiers known as the State Peace and Development Council, has signed peace treaties with the country's 15 other ethnic groups. In return for laying down their arms, some groups, such as the Wa, have been given a large degree of autonomy and the OK to produce drugs, which flood into Thailand and make their way to distant corners of the world. The Karen, many of whom were converted to Christianity by U.S. missionaries 2 centuries ago, have never played by these rules. They have shunned the drug trade and fled into Thailand to seek economic opportunities.
"There are no jobs in Burma, not enough food and very little medicine" said Kyaw, 26 year old medic. After 2 years in Mae Sot, he earns $50 a month as a gardener, more than a university professor with a doctorate would make in Myanmar.
Handclasp has supported Hill Tribes Development & Resource Center since its inception. The whole purpose of the Center is to accelerate the restoration of Karen people. We intend to give the young Karen of Maechem Province, Northern Thailand a good education and a chance to develop their skills. I believe we are doing this!
Don Fox, President & co founder of Handclasp
For a more graphic description of this plight, rent the video BEYOND RANGOON, available at many video stores. It was made from a report by an Australian reporter who risked his life and smuggled photos out of Burma during the revolution that caused the flow of refugees. The people you will see at the end of the movie are connected with Museekee.