Burma Forgotten Christian Refugees Face Misery in Thailand
(BosNewsLife)Far removed from Thailand s sunny, sandy, luxurious resorts is a hidden land of mud and misery. A place where people are crammed together in huts without electricity, and where Malaria or other diseases strike at random because of a lack of medical care.
Seemingly never ending rain changes the slippery, rocky, roads into rivers this season at the overcrowded Maela refugee camp near the Burmese borderovercrowded Maela refugee camp near the Burmese border.
Thai officials do not want outsiders to see this daily humanitarian crisis endured by the up to 60,000 refugees from Burma living here. Most of them are members of the pre-dominantly Christian Karen community, which is now fighting a fierce battle in nearby jungles of Burma , a country the military rulers call Myanmar .
It is here where a slightly anxious Terri Lightle hopes to meet the child she sponsors through the US-based advocacy group Christian Freedom International (CFI). Its supporters sponsor about 600 children, many of them Karen, with monthly donations of 25 dollars per person. In addition, CFI also collects and sells handmade art and other products dubbed as ‘Frontline Handcrafts’, from Karen refugees to raise funds for them.
“I have never seen her in person but I have her picture,” says Lightle of her 15-year old adopted daughter known as Ku Moo Wah. Lightle is one of several Americans and a BosNewsLife team who are quickly entering the camp through a small entrance between the barbered wire.
Most Karen people living here will see nothing else than this camp, as Thai authorities have refused to give them permission to leave the area. Although trapped and living as virtual prisoners, Karens say they experience an inner freedom because of their faith in Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit, who is not bound by earthly borders. They try to outdo the sound of rumbling thunder with songs for Christ during an overcrowded church service under the long leaves of a large hut.
ABANDONED IN BURMA
Visitors attempt to convince them that although they may have been abandoned in Burma , “Jesus will never abandon you.” They are told that Jesus Christ is a Good Shepard taking care for all his sheep. Trusting God is not always an easy task for some sheep, who have taken luggage full of horror stories with them to the camp.
Lightle is close to tears as she meets Ku Moo Wah, whose family escaped the advancing forces. “I brought some presents for you. You are the same age as my daughter,” says Lightle as she hugs the teenager. She later crosses a muddy river to meet her ill mother. living in a wet, muddy hut, with several smaller children and her husband. “I have been praying for you and your daughter,” says Lightle with a big smile on her face. Although living in poverty and suffering under malnutrition, the family adopted an orphan, whose parents disappeared.
“I was brought to them at the age of 3,” says the adopted 19-year old Hsar Mu Shee. “I had nowhere to go. My father was tortured and died after he was forced to carry very heavy bags with weapons for the Burmese army. I still have a mother, but I can not visit her as she stayed behind in Burma .”
BECOMING A JOURNALIST
He hopes to become a journalist one day to write about the plight of the Karen people, who have been on the run for several decades. Their outgunned and outnumbered Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) is fighting to defend Karen villagers and dreams of an autonomous Karen state, which was promised by British allies who later changed their mind and abandoned them after World War Two.
Forces of Burma s ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), a group of generals who govern the Asian nation by decree without a constitution or legislature since 1988, have stepped up attacks against Christian Karen people. They also managed to convince militant Karen Buddhists to establish their own military group, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), and help them in their offensive against the mainly Christian KNLA.
Human rights activists say the Karen community, one of the largest ethnic minorities within Burma , and its blend of Christianity are seen as a threat to the military regimes powerbase and ideology. The ongoing fighting has forced 200,000 refugees, most of them Karen, to flee to neighboring Thailand where they are scattered across several camps. An additional 1.5 million Karen people are believed to be displaced within Burma .
THAILAND NOT SAFE
Even across the border in Thailand , many are not safe as Burmese government forces have attacked the refugee camps, witnesses say. Mimi Singh, a former refugee who now works as CFIs Thailand Director , narrowly survived such violence. “I was about seven years old when my family fled a Karen camp in Burma because of attacks by SPDC forces. We thought it would be saver at the Thai site. But soon the first shells fell on the Thai site and we had to run for our lives,” she recalls.
The young woman says she will never forget the atrocities witnessed as a child. “While we were running, I saw people who had gunshots and I saw their head was cut off But their body was still running, for a second and than fell down. I still see that picture. It is something that will always stay with you. All my brothers and sisters saw this.”
While Singh was one of the few refugees allowed to work in Thailand outside a camp, most people of Maela stay behind, with their misery and memories. The Thai authorities say they already have taken care for many refugees from other conflicts in the region and can not allow unrestrictive access to the labor market.
CONCERN OVER NATIONALISM
Analysts say there are among Thai officials that allowing large numbers of Karen people in Thai society could encourage nationalism and destabilize the country.
However aid workers have criticized the “inhuman” circumstances within the refugee camps and criticize the perceived lack of involvement by the United Nations which, they say, mainly deal with statistics and counting the number of refugees.
An extensive network of spies from both Burma and Thailand makes it dangerous for Christians to help refugees, BosNewsLife has established. Military checkpoints are everywhere. If they catch you, you can be detained and arrested,” says Mimi Singh.
With Thailand busy selling itself as a welcoming destination for (richer) foreigners, rights watchers say the Thai military and police try to ensure the story of Karen refugees remains locked behind the barbed wires of their camps. (More information about the CFI sponsorship plan and sale of ‘Frontline Handcrafts’ can be obtained via website: www.christianfreedom.org. Subscribers received this in realtime. This story is part of a BosNewsLife Special Mission Project and therefore open for anyone with proper attribution BosNewsLife News Agency or BosNewsLife. All other stories are ONLY for subscribers. A subscription (from $1.95 a month for individuals or $9.95 for publishers) helps the news ministry to continue investigative stories from the world’s hotspots. Networks interested in interviews can contact Bos via: [email protected] ).
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