Would you even let your animals spend their life in a place such is this?
This is a recent picture from a classroom in Mae La refuge camp...no one want to make improvements for they don't know how long until the camps will close down...it's been over 30 years...
There are many more pictures as you scroll down the page...
Did you know
The Burma army has deliberately targeted civilian populations in an effort to defeat ethnic opposition armies. Burma army operations have been described as genocide of ethnic peoples.
Three million people have fled Burma and more than 600,000 remain internally displaced by conflict. Most of them belong to ethnic nationality groups.
Grave violations of humanitarian law continue in Burma’s prisons and ethnic areas. Perpetrators largely go unpunished and victims remain unable to seek redress.
War continues in Shan and Kachin States where Burma army has shelled villages, carried out aerial attacks and displaced at least 120,000 ethnic people, including Shan, Kachin, Ta’ang (Palaung) and Lahu.
About Thailand-Burma border:
Thailand hosts around 100,000 refugees in nine camps on the Thailand-Burma border.
Thailand has not signed the Geneva Convention relating to the status of refugees. Refugees found outside the camps are treated the same as any illegal immigrants.
Despite the ongoing war, violations of international humanitarian law, and impunity:
Foreign governments have recently resumed diplomatic relations with the Burmese government, lifted sanctions, and encouraged investment in a country where development projects continue to be directly linked to human rights violations.
Thai authorities are planning on closing down all the refugee camps. The UNHCR is negotiating with the Thai and Burmese governments about repatriating the refugees. But where will they go?
International donors have recently shifted funds from Thailand-Burma border to central Burma where funds are funneled through the Burma Government and are unable to reach ethnic border areas.
Because of recent funding cuts on the Thailand-Burma border:
Ethnic organizations and peoples are being silenced and at times pushed to move inside.
Vulnerable populations on both sides of the border now lack crucial aid.
Some refugees in Thailand believe that they are being starved out in order to avoid their continuing assistance and future repatriation.
For many Karen, although the recent reforms have brought hope, they have also resulted in exclusion and growing fear and uncertainty amidst reduced aid and rumors of forced repatriation.
Mae La Refuge Camp is located about an hours drive south of Karen Outreach Ministry Headquarter.
Mae La refugee camp was established in 1984 in Tha Song Yang District, Tak Province in Thailand. Mae La is by far the largest of the nine camps in Thailand, with a population of over 40,000-50,000 people. Mae La is also known as "Beh Klaw." The camp was originally established following the fall of a Karen National Union (KNU) base near the Thai village of Mae La on the border in 1984. After the fall of Manerplaw (KNU headquarters in Karen State) in January 1995, a number of camps were attacked in cross-border raids. Thai authorities began to consolidate camps to improve security. Mae La was designated as the main consolidation camp in the area. In April 1995, Mae La increased in size due to the closure of other camps – Mae Ta Waw, Mae Salit(it was located very close by Karen Outreach headquarter and Sunshine Orchard), Mae Plu So, Kler Kho and Ka Mawlay Kho and others followed suit. Most of the camp's residents arrived after being forced to flee their homes due to Burma military attacks; murder, torture, rape, forced labor, destruction of homes and food crops, and enslavement. But while refugees have escaped direct violence, other problems exist. There's little or no employment, education for children is minimal, and boredom is rife. Camp dwellers not only have to deal with the horrors of their past, but the grim outlook of their future. Despite this, the people at the camp carry with them a sense of humor and pride, they seem resilient. Yet suicide rates are rising alarmingly especially among the youth. Most of Mae La residents hope to go back to their country-Karen State-Kaw Thoo Lei; "A land without evil."
Refugees have lived confined to the camps in Thailand for over 30 years. Although refugee camps are hardly natural places to live, thousands have been born in the camps and never left. For the vast majority of them, the only way of life they have ever known is one forced to be dependent on outside assistance. For many young refugees, refugee camps are where they were born and where they grew up, and the only reality they have ever seen exists within the fences of the camp. “It is so strict to live here. There is nothing to do. I am not allowed to go outside the camp. There is no job, no work. So much stress and depression. I feel that I am going to go crazy here.” (Burmese refugee, Nu Po camp, Tak province, January 2012; Human Rights Watch, 2012e, p. 18)
Meanwhile, many older people have lived in the camps for so long that they can hardly remember their homeland anymore. The refugee camps are only considered “temporary shelters” by Thai authorities who can close down the camps whenever they decide to do so. Thailand, in recent years, has made it no secret that they want to close the camps, causing growing concerns among the refugee population who do not feel safe to return.
When the first refugees arrived in 1984, no one could have ever predicted that they would still be there over 30 years later. Majority of the refugees in the camps have fled armed conflicts and/or horrendous human rights abuse and persecution by the Burmese military. The government policy of Four Cuts, and what has been described as the slow genocide of ethnic peoples. Thousands of villages were burned to the ground, including houses, religious buildings, schools, belongings, and sometimes even domestic animals. In many areas, it became the norm for the villagers to live in a constant fear of the Burmese military coming to their village, terrorizing the villagers, stealing their food, forcing villagers to become porters and living landmine sweepers, raping ethnic women, and torturing and killing anyone suspected of having a connection the ethnic armed opposition. Some villagers endured the abuse by developing warning systems and repeatedly fleeing to the jungle, others, who had heard about Thailand, decided to leave their village for good. Others still had no choice as their village was already in ashes on the ground. Until 1995, refugees on the Thailand-Burma border lived in village-type settlements and were allowed to travel outside the camps to get food and shelter materials. Camp life changed dramatically in 1995 after cross border attacks; the village-type settlements were merged into large, sprawling camps that became increasingly dependent on outside aid as residents became more and more restricted on space and movement. Refugees out of desperation to provide for their families and in hope of opportunities frequently break the rules of confinement and as a consequence, are often detained and occasionally deported, abuse and human violations often occur. Refugees have no means of seeking redress. The situation leave especially children, youth and women extremely vulnerable to sexual abuse, trafficking and other crimes.
Nearly 100,000 have been resettled to third countries.
In the camps, refugees have limited educational and training opportunities and no official means of earning an income. While education in the camps is far better than any education available to civilians inside Burma, there are limited opportunities for higher education, which also largely remains unrecognised outside the camps. Karen and other ethnic peoples of Burma traditionally place a very high value on education and many have crossed the border to Thailand in order to go to a camp school.
With more than 50,000 residents, Mae La is the biggest of the refugee camps on the Thailand-Burma border. Due to its size and easily accessibly location, Mae La is considered a center of study for refugees. The issue for many young students is what happens after they finish a post-ten school, the highest level of education available in most of the camps. There are only a handful of schools on the Thailand-Burma border where these young students can apply for, leaving thousands of talented and dedicated aspiring students with no means to educate themselves, capable young adults are left with no means to pursue their dream of higher education. Many young people are determined to help their people and their country, but with no place to go for study, they often end up becoming a health worker or a teacher in the camp. Some leave to illegally find factory work in Bangkok or elsewhere in Thailand while many others turn to drugs and alcohol, or even commit suicide, as they see their dreams crushed before them. Having lived in a place where freedom of movement as well as self-expression is severely restricted, many young refugees feel scared as they have heard stories about the police check points and intimidation by Thai authorities.
Due to the refugees in the camps being forced to be nearly completely dependent on outside help for food, shelter, protection and other basic needs, their coping mechanisms have been severely eroded. Travel and work restrictions have had adverse psychological and social effects on the refugees, decreasing their self-sufficiency, camp morale and mental health.
Living in the camp is similar to living in prison because they can’t go outside or make their own decisions. The camp is surrounded by barbed wire. If they go outside of the camp, Thai police will arrest them. In the long run, it affects not only their physical but also their mental health.
A study found that 50% of adult camp residents suffer from mental health problems and anti-depressants constituted one of the most common drug prescriptions for refugees. Mae La refuge camp is overcrowded, the challenge of space is a significant concern. Due to space restrictions and limited housing supplies provided in the camps, many households comprise more than one family and young married couples typically continue to live with their parents. Space restrictions, huts cramped together, coupled with bamboo building materials also make camps into ‘fire traps’ and despite refugees being aware of the danger, fires regularly sweep through the communities. Although some basic health care is provided in the camps, diseases such as malaria, dengue fever and tuberculosis are still common among the refugees. The chronic stunting malnutrition rate among children is very high in the camps and along the Thai Burma border of about 40-50%.
TBC remains the only agency responsible for providing food and shelter assistance to the refugees in the camps. In the past, TBC also regularly purchased and distributed blankets, mosquito nets, clothing for children under five and thread for weaving, sleeping mats, and cooking pots to camp residents, but recent funding cuts on the border have forced TBC to cease the provision of all non-food items even to new arrivals.
Only cooking stoves and donated items are still being distributed to refugees.
As a consequence of the funding cuts, TBC’s food rations have also fallen way below minimum daily nutritional levels. Health and education services for the refugees have also been cut back, having an adverse effect on the camp residents.
It used to be that camp residents would receive food rations of– 8kgs of rice for adult (12kg for children), half a bag of charcoal, three-fourths liter of cooking oil and half a kg of fish-paste a month. Today these rations have been reduced. Without ability to earn an income or to leave the camp to forage for food...this is cause for distress. How to provide for the other basic necessities for their families remain a crisis situation.
As the recent restrictions in movement have strictly prohibited refugees from leaving camp premises, the reduced rations have become a grave concern. According to the refugees themselves, it is the poorest and the most vulnerable who suffer the consequences as they are not able to go to the forest to hunt for rats to eat and collect vegetables, nor to buy extra food as they are now not allowed to take on work as daily workers. Some refugees are now employing more risky behaviors and strategies in order to bridge the widened gap between their basic needs and the humanitarian assistance they receive. While some households are able to supplement their needs through well-established economic activities, others are simply no longer able to meet their basic needs. Eye-witnesses tell a grim story as some refugees believing they are being starved out in order to avoid their continuing assistance and future repatriation.
Many refugees refuse to settle for their faith as helpless and passive victims and are making great efforts to cope and provide for their families through taking part in different livelihood activities, when possible. Some international NGOs provide the refugees with opportunities for skills training and income generation, although these projects reach only a small part of refugee populations. Refugees are also often left frustrated as after taking part in the training, they have nowhere to use their newly-found skills. Some have taken part in training after another, unable to apply their skills in practice. The policy nevertheless remains in place and restrictions have recently been tightened. While many refugees make significant efforts to remain active in the challenging and often depressive situation, the vast majority of camp residents are increasingly reliant on outside support and aid as a result of forced passivity. The recent political changes and ceasefire have resulted in widespread and grossly premature talks of repatriating the refugees. Thai authorities announced that they are in the process of discussion with the Burmese government about closing the refugee camps. These are grave concerns for the refugees as major obstacles for safe repatriation remain. In fact, none of the reasons why refugees fled have seen a sustainable solution; peace process does not seem stable, ceasefires remain fragile and unpredictable, landmine contamination is among the worst in the world, health and education is lacking, poverty is rampant, and human rights violations continues. Although the consensus is that conditions are not yet conducive for refugees to return, there are now significant concerns that camps could be closed and refugees repatriated before they can do so with a sense of dignity and hope. Talks about repatriation coupled with reduced aid and increased restrictions have caused anxiety and uncertainty among the refugees who do not feel safe returning to their homeland. Despite the positive change that has emerged during the past years, much more needs to be done before refugees can safely return to Burma yet no one knows when the refugees will have to go back and whether they can do so voluntarily. It is hoped that organizations will be willing to continue necessary support on the border until the time is right for refugees to return. A major current challenge, however, is that many NGOs along the border are struggling to sustain even basic services to refugees as donors are shifting their funds inside Burma.