My family and I spent three years living in the jungle until we were finally able to cross into Thailand in 1983. We’ve lived in several refugee camps on the border since then. All my children save for the eldest were born there. Until now, there was no remote possibility of going home.
During the repatriation workshops I attended, NGO workers told us there is no set timeframe for repatriation, but that they want us to be prepared because we’ll have to return home some day. We were told we would have to stand on our own feet then. We learnt such concepts as empowerment and self-integration, and practical skills like agricultural planning and livestock breeding. I liked it – it made us think in detail about how we will live and what careers we might have if we return home.
However, I don’t want to go home at this moment because I don’t feel safe – there are still Burmese troops there. While there is no one left in my village, I know from people living nearby that they’re still occupying it. Despite a ceasefire between the government and the Karen National Union (KNU), we have no guarantees that we will get our land back. We lost our family’s paddy field to the troops, which was our source of livelihood.
“It’s getting harder and harder to live in the refugee camps as aid is reduced”
Many refugees here in my camp are now applying to resettle in third countries as they fear they will soon be forced to return home. Two of my children have already resettled in the United States, but I don’t want to go there because I can’t speak English. [Editor’s Note: The United States recently is now ending a program under which it had resettled 105,000 Burmese. Moreover, about half of the residents in Mae La camp do not have official refugee status, which means they are ineligible for resettlement in a third country.] Plus, I’m getting old. I would prefer to stay in Thailand, where I feel safe and where I’ve been living for two decades now.
However it is getting harder and harder to survive in the refugee camps, because the aid has been progressively reduced. [As Burma opens up, international donors have been giving more money to NGOs inside Burma and reducing funding to NGOs based on the Thailand-Burma border]. Some of the food we used to receive, such as oil and canned fish, have been cut off. Same with construction materials – we can’t rebuild our houses anymore, just make small repairs. Nobody expects to be able to stay here for much longer.