Life in a refugee camp
[dropcap1]D[/dropcap1]uring the UnionAID Study Tour to the Thailand/Burma border region earlier this year the group attempted to enter the Mae La Refugee Camp but were turned back.
Instead, one of the resident refugees came to the group and spoke about his life and expectations for the future. His story made a strong impact on those who heard it.
One of the group, Annabel Snow, said the visit was “nerve-racking, incredibly sad and emotional”.
“It was a glimpse into the life of an educated normal citizen forced to live in a camp, unable to leave and unable to return home.”
Although the thatched huts of the camp looked like a traditional village from a distance, it was very over crowded with more than 40,000 residents living within a four square kilometre area in poverty-like conditions. Any rain turns the pathways into slippery quagmires and the flimsy leaf laden roofs provide little shelter. In dry weather the tinder dry structures are an ever-present fire danger.
With as much secrecy as the group could manage the man from the camp, who is not authorised to speak to outside groups, spoke to them in their van.
He had fled from Mon state five years previously and has lived only in this camp.
He proudly showed a photograph of his three daughters who lived in the camp with him.
At his home, where he was a pastor, the Burmese Government had built a gas pipeline through the village and the residents there had been forced into military labour to dig the pipeline and guard the railways. He has no desire to return to Burma where he had seen such atrocities and nor does he trust the regime. He would rather join his sisters in the USA.
“When he spoke about his family his eyes welled up with tears and it was really hard to not cry ourselves,” said Annabel.
A guard, watching from a distance although he appeared to be reading a newspaper, came out of the gate for a closer look, but did not approach the group.
Nevertheless, it was a nerve-racking experience as the group were desperately not wanting to cause him any trouble on his return to the camp.
After bidding him goodbye and thanking him the group watched anxiously as he re-entered the camp safely.