Talking to Minnesota Leaders

When I returned from my trip it was my privilege to meet with Karen leaders and Minnesota legislative representative staff members (from Senators Klobuchar and Franken and Representative Betty McCollum’s offices). I described my experiences in the camps on the Thai-Burma border. I also presented reflections and recommendations as to what we in the United States could do to help the situation.

 

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TALKING POINTS   (January 29, 2015)

*There are talks going on now between the military governments of Thailand and Burma. The intention is to close the refugee camps along the border and forcibly repatriate the refugee people (120,000) on the border and resettle internally displaced people (120,000) within Burma. Most of these people are Karen.

  • The target date is 2016.
  • The Karen protest: “DON’T TALK ABOUT US WITHOUT US!” they are not a part of the negotiations.
  • The Karen presently manage the nine refugee camps along the Thai Burma border. Several camps have been in existence for 20-25 years. Camps are guarded by Thai soldiers who have instituted more rigorous security policies. Few come and go from the camps.
  • Food and assistance come from 19 international NGOs whose activities are coordinated by The Border Consortium. The Thai government does not participate in this effort.
  • Karen fear returning to Burma. Only 245 people in the past six months have returned to Burma permanently or on a “go and see” basis. Virtually no one believes it would be safe.
  • With political unrest in Thailand and other factors the numbers of refugees coming to the US has dropped dramatically.
  • The Thai government has forbidden the registration of new cases with the UNHCR since 2005. If a person does not have a UNHCR I.D. card there is virtually no way for them to leave the camp or Thailand for a third country resettlement. Half the residents of the camps have no UNHCR I.D.
  • The Burmese government has worked hard to improve its image in the world community. There have been some positive changes in the urban area with relaxation of restrictions. However in outlying areas, particularly Kachin and Shan State there is daily bloodshed and state sponsored terrorism. Little has changed in the genocidal activities in which they have been involved for years. No one we talked to believes that the plans for repatriation are of the scale necessary to serve a quarter million people.
  • The Border Consortium informed us that the only real chance for an individual or family to be resettled would be if they had the UNHCR I.D. and family working from the U.S. to be reunited.

Recommendations:

Insist that Karen representative be a part of the ongoing repatriation talks. DON’T TALK ABOUT US WITHOUT US.

Insist on real cooperative plans for the security and viability of returning refugees to their homes.

Assist families here and in Thailand by expediting reunification efforts this year.

Reverend William Englund, Pastor
First Baptist Church, St. Paul, MN

Gallery [1/9]

The Border Consortium, Dr. Cynthia’s Clinic, Ma La Refugee Camp & Dr. Simon

Chris Clifford @ The Border Consortium

Chris Clifford @ The Border Consortium

Today in Mae Sot we met some remarkable people. We went first to the border consortium. Chris Clifford told us of the work of the consortium. The refugees organize and operate the camps themselves with help from the NGOs. There are nongovernment organizations from all over the world that assist people along the border. I cannot imagine what life would be like for the people in the camps without this organization. They serve hundred and 120,000 people along the border.

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Left Behind [Mouse Trap and Spirit House]

We left the camp on roads even worse than our coming to the camp.  We were traveling in three vehicles for a couple of bumpy hours and then we were to transfer to other more comfortable vans. The short story is that our first driver misunderstood just exactly where he was supposed to drop us off so two of us ended up at the home of a Karen family who spoke no English. We didn’t know we were at the wrong place.

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Baptism

We spent two remarkable days in the refugee camp. I baptized ten of the 240 candidates in the river.  We were watched by hundreds along the banks. We celebrated the 20th anniversary of the camp with ten choirs from a variety camps. The roads in and out of the camps required 4 wheel drive and even then we had to get out and walk.

— Pastor Bill

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