MYANMAR REFUGEES IN THAILAND
Thailand currently hosts some 53,192 registered refugees and an estimated 53,021 unregistered asylum-seekers in nine Temporary Shelters. Refugees started fleeing Myanmar in the early 1980’s and many of them sought protection along the Thailand side of the border. With the generosity of the Royal Thai Government and the donor community it has been possible for the humanitarian community to provide protection and assistance within the Temporary Shelters. Significant political and economic reform has been taking place inside Myanmar since the formation of the civilian-led government in 2011 and, as it concerns people displaced by the armed conflict in the southeast of the country, this has included temporary ceasefires. Throughout 2012 and 2013 there has been discussion within the refugee community on preparedness for a possible voluntary repatriation. To that end, some assistance strategies have been reconfigured in support of voluntary return and other durable solutions while keeping in tune with the evolving realities in Myanmar and sensitive to the concerns of the refugees residing in the Temporary Shelters.
REFUGEE VOICES
  • Interview with Chairperson of Karenni Refugee Committee - Mahn Saw
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    Mr. Saw Mann Saw, thank you very much for speaking with us today. Can you introduce yourself to the readers? My name is Saw Mann Saw. I am working as the Chairperson of the Karenni Refugee Committee (KnRC). This is my second term. I was born in 1949 in a small village called Khin Gyi Village in Taungoo, three miles from the main town. I have four siblings: two older sisters, two younger brothers, and I am in the middle. My father used to be a farmer and my mother used to work as a midwife at the military hospital. When I was young, I was a curious boy, and I spent most of my time exploring the environment outside of my house. The civil war was already on-going when I was born. Due to the war that started in 1949, I moved to two or three different places during my childhood. When I was one year old, my family moved to Chauchi, Po Thoung Sut village, Kayin State. I stayed there for eight years. In 1958, I moved to Taungoo. The conflict between certain ethnic groups together with the Burma Communist Party against the Myanmar Government forced many people like me to flee from their homes for their safety and security. In 1975, after I completed the tenth grade, I left Taungoo and joined the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) on the Thai-Myanmar border, where I became a member of the KNPP from 1976 until today. What is your main responsibility as KnRC Chairperson? My responsibility as Chairperson of KnRC is to oversee all KnRC activities. KnRC is the committee in charge of coordinating and working together with UNHCR, Thai authorities, NGOs and Camp Committees to ensure the systematic and fair distribution of all services to Karenni refugees. What inspired you to work for the refugee community? Many elements. In fact, at first I did not intend to work at KnRC, but, I am here because of the need of the community. My inspiration came from my experience in getting to know our people along this border. Refugees here face difficulties and many disadvantages compared to other communities. What is your goal in life? Have you achieved it? I cannot say that I have achieved my goal at present. But one thing I’ve done while I am here is to closely work with the NGOs and the Thai government for the improvement of the situation of our people. I try to act as an example for the younger generation by being punctual and by carrying out my duties. I would like to encourage younger people to gain knowledge by reading and also to value the importance of time by making good use of their time. I would like to teach the younger generation of our community about the importance of discipline and manners. I want our people to try their best when facing any situation that may be presented to them. I hope that in the future, we will all be able to return to Myanmar, peacefully and voluntarily. What is your main concern when working with the community and with partners? I think that language is important when we communicate with each other. So, when I work with community and partners, the main concern for me is the language barrier. What are your thoughts about the current dynamics in Myanmar? Do you think that it is moving in the direction you expected? What still needs to be done? Politics in Myanmar is very complicated. I think that the political situation is moving forward, but very slowly. I think that trust, goodwill and respect for each other is the key to the reform process. What is your hope for the refugee community in the future? I think that everybody wants to go home. The home we will go back must be peaceful and secure. If repatriation takes place, I hope that the process will be implemented according to voluntariness, safety and dignity. Are there anything you would like to share with the readers? Every individual has their own future. Let the individuals take the decision in their own hands. Thank you very much.

  • Return story from Shadow, Kayah state
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    My name is Benedetta. I am 28 years old. I have two children, and I came back from the refugee camp in Thailand six months ago to Nan Kyaing Lay village together with my family. When I returned, I had nothing to restart my life. I have my parents in Shadaw and I thought that I might need at least two to three years to be able to reintegrate into the community. But surprisingly, the villagers here invited me to work as a nursery school teacher for the children in this village. We have a self-help nursery school. Government officials visited our village and, next year, we will be able to open a primary school with the budget from the State Hluttaw as initial support from the State authority. In this village, we are not many. We are about 30 households. We expect that more people will move from elsewhere in Shadaw and perhaps Thailand in a few years' time because of the good location compared to other very remote places. Since many people moved from different places, including myself, everybody is in the same condition. No one has a good house. For me and my family, we are staying at a neighbour’s house, and we are allowed to stay there until they come back. I feel encouraged that I can live here and try to restart my life together with other community members, although I also understand that I will have to start from the very beginning. I had nothing but when I was in the refugee camp. I worked as a social worker, and I tried to save my small income so that I would have something to sustain my family for a certain period when I came back. With the support that I received from UNHCR through the DRC livelihood project, I now sell some groceries from my home for extra income. We rely on the travelers who pass this road as our customers. My friend lent me a piece of land where my husband and I can grow sesame. But this year was very unfortunate, as mice destroyed the crops and we were not able to harvest at all. We hope that we can have a better harvest in the future, and we also plan to look for another piece of land where we can work on our own. We also have a hand-dug well. Water access is still difficult, but we were told that either one social organization or the government will provide the water supply. In terms of safety, there are places where we can cultivate safely, but we are also aware that there are some areas that will be unsafe because of the landmines. I applied for family registration and a Citizenship Scrutiny Card (CSC) in Shadaw. My children were also able to get birth certificates. When I just came back, I did not know what to do. The future was totally unclear. But in these few months' time, I see that I can do something. I feel that my return can be sustainable.

  • Aspirations of a youth-led club and a youth leader in BMN
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    The Youth Club is a Karreni group made of youth ages 15-25 in Ban Mai Nai Soi Temporary Shelter, and supported by COERR. The Youth Club began in 2014, when a group of dancers called “Black Jungle” was approached by COERR and asked if they were interested in forming a youth group. Black Jungle would perform at festivals, such as King’s Day or Queen’s Day and COERR noticed their energy. COERR encouraged Black Jungle to consider a youth group in order to increase action and participation by young people in the community; Black Jungle agreed to this opportunity, seeing the potential of having a larger impact in BMN and the Youth Club formed, with approximately 25 members. At the moment, Youth Club has around 16 members and two Youth Leaders, Than Tun Oo, who serves as BT leader and is currently a teacher in Section 14 High School, and Dee Reh, who serves as BK leader. [Due to the size of BMN shelter, the camp is divided into two zones, BT and BK]. Youth Club meets twice a month and organizes activities such as “Helping Hand”- an initiative to assist those in the community who are elderly or disabled; constructing and repairing homes in need; and organizing sport activities with boarding house students and CBOs. Youth Club is also active in organizing football matches within the community, as well as sports competitions. The members believe maintain activeness is essential to good health and well-being. When Youth Club needs assistance or has an idea for a beneficial community activity, they approach COERR for support. COERR also provides life skills training for the Youth Club. Otherwise, the group is run entirely by youth and for youth. According to Than Tun Oo, the main issues the Youth Club notices and tries to address within the young community are early marriage, use of drugs and alcohol, and a pressure (anxiety) in not being able to leave the camp. Than Tun Oo finds that the larger community allows worries about the latter, in that the future feels unclear for many refugees. In this, the Youth Club has goals for 2016 to bring awareness and facilitate activities that can address these concerns and help the community feel at ease with increased knowledge about their options for the future. As sports are a focus for Youth Club, Than Tun Oo also feels that using sports can help reduce worry and anxiety, and promote mental wellness. In addition, they provide an outlet for young energy, so that individuals do not succumb to using drugs and alcohol; “young people are healthy physically, but mentally? They are anxious. They think, after post-10, what do I do? (Post 10 is the highest level of education offered in BMN schools). Youth Club can contribute to a healthier community with sports and activeness; this can reduce the worry and anxiety”. Than Tun Oo exemplifies the energy and motivation of young people in BMN who strive to contribute to the community both now and in the future. Than Tun Oo finished post-10 and began teaching Science and English around 2 years ago. He has goals of continuing studies, returning to Myanmar, and obtaining a role in education in Kayah State. With a thorough understanding of the differences in education in Kayah State and Thailand, he strives to bring strong systems to improve the education offered in Kayah. While still in BMN, Than Tun Oo hopes to lead even more activities with Youth Club and work together with UNHCR colleagues to address protection-related concerns that youth have. “When I return to Myanmar, I will feel like a stranger in my own land. But that is ok. I learned a lot about the differences of education here and there. I want to use this knowledge to improve the education systems in Myanmar”.

  • Livelihoods support to refugee & IDP returnees: Daw Moe Mae
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    Daw Moe Mae is a housewife with four children living in Daw Ngay Khu village in Demoso township of Kayah State. Whilst three of her children are schooling, one infant still needs caring for, so before this project, she was not able to work to support her husband and supplement the family income. They were entirely dependent on the husband’s meagre earnings through planting sesame and peanut. However, this was insufficient for the family’s basic daily needs and Daw Moe Mae had no choice but to ask for food for the next day from local sellers. Without being able to pay for the food at the time, the family was stuck in a daily cycle of debt, making life very difficult. But thanks to a new livelihoods project implemented by UNHCR and the Danish Refugee Council (DRC DDG), Daw Moe Mae received support to set up a small grocery business, significantly improving her family’s income level and food security situation. Daw Moe Mae works really hard. Having received a 150,000 MMK grant from DRC DDG’s livelihoods team, she was able to set up a small grocery shop at the family home and now generates a regular income of between 5,000–10,000 MMK every day. With this, she is not only able to feed her family, but is investing more in the shop. She is now also trying to diversify into pig breeding and has already bought one sow. The income that Daw Moe May now earns is proving very helpful not only for the family’s daily food consumption, but also for the children’s educational needs. No longer does Daw Moe Mae have to worry about how to feed her family the next day; she is able to enjoy her life and run a regular business. Her dream is to one day become the owner of a big grocery shop in Daw Ngay Khu.

  • Livelihoods support to refugee & IDP returnees: U Sue Reh
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    U Sue Leh is a single, 46-year-old man with no family who, until recently, had been living on a subsistence basis with irregular income in Daw Ta Ma Gyi village, Demoso township, Kayah State. Before receiving livelihoods support from UNHCR and the Danish Refugee Council (DRC DDG), the income that U Sue Leh earned through casual labour and farming was just enough to pay for his daily living. Without his own agricultural tools, he had to rely on others to lend him theirs and, when this was not possible, he would be unable to work, making life very difficult. Thanks to this project, U Sue Leh’s livelihood and employment options have significantly improved. Having received agricultural tools as well as agricultural awareness training from DRC DDG’s livelihoods team, he has not only been able to earn a regular income through casual labour, preparing land for cultivation, but has also been able to start to farm his own small plot of land. This was the first time U Sue Leh had received this type of agricultural training and with UNHCR and DRC DDG’s support, U Sue Leh has been able to plant 48 cups of sesame seed and, having already harvested 6 bags of seed during July, he expects to have 4 more bags during August. With his increased earnings, he hopes that he will be able to buy enough rice for the whole year. “I would like to thank UNHCR and DRC for supporting me with useful agricultural tools and training which will be very useful for my lifetime.” U Sue Leh, August 2015.

  • For these scouts,
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    MAE LA CAMP, Thailand, Sept 29 (UNHCR) – They live by the motto, Be Prepared, as members of the Utah Boy Scouts of America Troop. But nothing could have prepared them for the rush of emotions that greeted them in Mae La refugee camp. The 18 Myanmar refugee boys had flown with their scout leader from Salt Lake City in the United States to Japan for the World Scout Jamboree before arriving in Bangkok for a seven-hour bus ride to reach this camp in western Thailand's Tak province. They were visibly tired but excited as they scoured the crowd for familiar faces – loved ones they had not seen since leaving the camp in UNHCR's resettlement program almost 10 years ago. The faces of Brothers Lwel Say, 16, and Lwel Gay Htoo, 14, lit up when they found their aunt, Tha Dah Wah, 24. "I'm very excited, very happy and I want to cry," she said. After seven years apart, the boys were now taller than her, but the younger one still clung to her hand as they walked through the camp. The brothers have come a long way – not just in terms of distance but also experience. Born in exile, Mae La camp was the only world they knew. Daily life revolved around school, play and evening lessons with their teacher-mother. They wore old clothes full of holes and considered themselves lucky to wear flip flops where other kids ran around in their bare feet. "We used to ask our parents – how will our future be? They always said they didn't know," said Lwel Gay Htoo. Back then, ethnic conflict in south-eastern Myanmar seemed intractable and the refugees faced the prospect of spending a lifetime in Thailand's camps. In 2005, UNHCR started a group resettlement program to give some of them a new lease on life. "My parents decided to register for the resettlement program because they hoped for better education for me and my brothers and sisters, so we would have better lives," said Eh Nay Ler, 17, another member of the visiting team. Life in the United States was not easy at first. Many struggled with the new environment, culture and language. The Lwel brothers improved their English by watching cartoons while Eh Nay Ler persisted by listening to his teachers. These young men eventually joined the Utah Boy Scouts – comprising some 100 resettled Myanmar refugees – through which they volunteer weekly and help the homeless in their new community. "Resettling in America gave is a new, fresh start in life. It's given us freedom, rights, better education and welfare that would have been impossible if we still lived in the camp. Without the resettlement program, I could have married early or gone bad," said Lwel Say, who admitted to being "totally stubborn" and "spoilt" in the past. Eh Nay Ler agreed: "I am very thankful for the life I've been given. Without support from UNHCR, the resettlement country and donors, I would probably be picking corn for a living with my grandmother." Despite their gratitude, the boys clearly missed the relatives they left behind, including grandparents who felt they were too old to travel and extended family members who had either opted to stay or were unregistered and thus not eligible for resettlement under Thai regulations. The Lwel brothers' aunt chose to stay for a university scholarship in Thailand, after which she plans to teach in the camp. This spirit of giving back is not lost on the resettled boys. Lwel Say hopes to come back to Mae La to be a teacher when he graduates from high school in two years. Fellow Scout Hay Soe, 16, waxed nostalgic when he visited his old school in the camp: "One day I will come back here and be a teacher. I will teach math or science because I love these subjects and I want to work for refugees in Thailand." Nearly 100,000 Myanmar refugees have been resettled to third countries such as Australia, Canada, Denmark, Japan and the United States since 2005. Some 110,000 remain in nine camps along the Thailand-Myanmar border. By Korapin Suntayodom & Pathamawan Tonjunpong, In Mae La camp, Thailand

  • From Mae La Refugee Camp to Salt Lake City, Japan… and Back
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    The Karenni and Karen boy scouts were excited to cross the border crossing at Mae Sot to Myawaddy, then on to Hpa-an, Loikaw and Rangoon(Yangon). Shwe Yo Lay, 16, one of the returning scouts was born in Mae La and was excited to go back to visit his old home and to see family members he had left behind when he resettled to the US. He talked to Karen News about his return. My name is Hay Soe. My family and close friends call me Shwe Yo Lay. I was born in Mae La refugee camp and lived there for eight years. In 2007, my family immigrated to the United States and we settled there. Now eight years later, I had the opportunity to visit my home, Mae La. I was looking forward to meeting my relatives and seeing the place I grew up in. Many things have changed about the camp, but I was able to recognize everything like it was yesterday. I felt a special feeling when I went back to Mae La. It felt like home and it brought back so many emotions and memories from my childhood. I felt lucky and blessed. I met up with my aunt and uncle and I felt more than happy. A feeling so special I can’t think of words to describe it. My heart was beating fast. Talking with my aunt and uncle was special and even though they give me a gift. The age of the boys in our troop ranged from 14 to 18. This trip has greatly affected everybody because seeing our country was a wonderful and we’ve learned so much about the environment and the children over in Mae La and Hpa-an. It really touched our hearts and I think we have all grown and matured on this trip. Most of the boys go to school and some go to college. We’re all students and we all have different electives at our school. I personally sing and study Latin for my electives but it varies for every boy. Some are interested in joining the military and others are interested in becoming police and engineers. We all are going to different schools from all over the Salt Lake valley.(East High, West High, Highland, Cottonwood, Olympus, Granger, and Hunter High School). My aunt and uncle have community positions in Mae La and had to go to meeting. I talked with them and the chief at the camp and I learned so many things about my home. The things they said influenced me to have a desire to one day, come back and help the refugees like I once was. Having the opportunity to come back to my home is the best thing that has happened to me.

  • Born in a camp, Kler Heh hopes to break into first team this season with Sheffield United
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    Sheffield United have awarded a professional contract to a former Thai refugee, Kler Heh, after the 18-year-old impressed in his third trial for the club. Born in the Umpiem Mai Refugee Camp, he and his family of ethnic Karens, a minority group who have faced oppression in Myanmar, had already failed with their attempts to move to Australia and seemed destined never to escape the depressing camp environment. “You can’t really get out, nobody has a passport to go into Thailand and go out like a normal human would,” Kler explained. But in 2006, a small group from the camp, including Kler and five family members, were resettled in Sheffield as part of the United Nations gateway protection programme. Unable to speak the language, Kler took to the sanctuary of football once again, playing for school teams and in Sunday leagues. Friends told him of the Football Unites Racism Divides group, which helped Kyle Walker on his way to becoming an England international, and he went along and impressed. Two nerve-filled trials at Sheffield United, where Walker also started, came and went before Kler was finally taken on by the club’s academy at the third attempt and has impressed coaches. “I would love to play in the Premier League one day but at present my goal is to impress [the manager] Nigel Adkins and [Under-21 coach] Chris Morgan, and repay Sheffield United for the faith that they have shown to me,” he told Reuters. “But I am an ambitious player and I would love to and one day be the captain of either Myanmar or Thailand at international level and as I grow play at the highest level possible the Premier League and Champions League.” Kler is a skilful winger who will play in United’s Under-21 side this year and push for first-team opportunities with the Blades, who made the semi-finals of the League Cup last season but narrowly missed out on promotion back to the second tier. “Trying to progress through the academy ranks is a tough challenge on its own,” said United’s academy manager Nick Cox. “Kler has done this at the same time as having to learn a new language and adapt to an unfamiliar culture. It has been an incredible achievement to be awarded with a professional contract at the club.” Kler, now holding a British passport, went back to Thailand in 2012 to visit family and friends at the refugee camp, which is home to almost 13,000 people. He said he is happy to carry the weight of expectation for all back home in a region obsessed with the Premier League and desperate to see one of their own play in the lucrative league for the first time. “I know that I am representing myself, my family, friends and everyone in Myanmar and Thailand,” Kler said. “I want to be a positive role model and a symbol of hope that there is life outside the refugee camps.”

  • “Our local center of knowledge and information”: story by Shanti Volunteer Association
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    Whether you are looking for reference materials for your studies, wanting to access knowledge and information, or simply enjoy reading, visiting a community library is one of the best places to go. At present, there are 21 community libraries in seven refugee camps on the Thai Burma Border. Libraries are open five days a week and each library has more than 7,000 books, including: picture story books, reference books, newspapers, magazines, general knowledge books, novels and comic books. All of which can be borrowed by anyone over the age of 12. There are also daily activities organized by librarians such as: story telling, games, songs and drawing for children. From children to the elderly, many users visit the library every day and spend time reading all sorts of books with friends and family. Shanti Volunteer Association (SVA) has been supporting these community libraries since the year 2000. Ms. Ta Nye Paw (11), from Ban Don Yang camp often comes to the library. The library is one of her best friends. “I come to the library every day. I love story telling by the librarian. When I listen to stories, I feel very happy. My future dream in to be a librarian and I would like to tell stories for children!” Ms. Naw Bell Htee Loo (52), in Maela Oon camp likes the library and often volunteers to support the librarian’s work. “The library is useful for us because we can get more information though books. If I stay at my village in Myanmar, it would be difficult to access such a variety of books. Staying in the camp without the library would not be fun. The library gives us happiness and more knowledge” Mr. Saw Yo Tha (22), from Maela camp, works as a librarian in-charge of OCEE (Office of Camp Education Entity) and is proud of his work which supports people in the community. “The community library is like a doctor because it can heal people’s hearts.” In recent years, during discussions regarding a durable solution for refugees, various stakeholders have mentioned the importance of sharing information with people in the camps. As mentioned in the UNESCO Public Manifesto of 1994 “The Public Library is the local center of information, making all kinds of knowledge and information readily available to its users”, one important function of the community library in the refugee camps is to share information with people using the library. Since the beginning of this year, SVA has been working to strengthen this information sharing function of the community libraries in the camps in cooperation with KRC, the Camp Committee, OCEE, the Library Committee and other stakeholders. Up until now the main source of information at the libraries was available through books and other printed material. This included newspapers, magazines and general knowledge books which are distributed every month. However, thanks to support from UNHCR, SVA was able to set up computers in the libraries from the middle of 2014. The offline version of “Thailand-Myanmar Cross Border Portal” has been installed on the computers allowing people to access the information on this web portal which is available in Karen, Burmese and English. After setting up the computers, SVA received a lot of positive feedback from people using the library, most of who said they thought computers were very useful for accessing information. The OCEE also provides access to education e-data on these computers. Many library users, especially young people, often use these computers to find the latest information and educational materials. In order to expand the range of library users, SVA conducted a workshop in August for information sharing at the library targeting OCEE, the Library Committee, teachers and camp based staff of INGOs and CBOs. During the workshop, participants shared ideas on how to improve the library’s function for information sharing through books, computers, information board and other tools. Although it was the first time for some participants to use the computers, most of them were very motivated to learn how to use the computers and promised to practice every day so that they can share information with others. Some participants mentioned that they will talk with the camp committee to make a general announcement about the availability of computers to the camp residents. After the workshop, SVA staff members noted an increased sense of ownership on the part of the community towards the community libraries. A community library is like a local center of knowledge and information. SVA continues to work together with all the stakeholders in order to further improve the community libraries so that even more people will access this resource. If you have a chance, please come and visit your local community library!

  • Paw Hser Soe Pree, from Nupo to America! An inspiring story from the Thai-Myanmar border
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    Paw Hser Soe, please tell us about yourself and what brings you to Mae Hong Son? I am 24 years old and was born in the Karen State of Burma and I moved to a refugee camp in Thailand when I was seven years old. I moved to Utica, NY, USA in 2008 and it is the first time I am back in Thailand since I left. I am doing an internship with the Shanti Volunteer Association along the Thai-Myanmar Border. My mom and two of my siblings still live in Nu Po camp. I am so happy to see them! Unfortunately, my dad passed away in 2011 and I could not attend his funeral. He was a doctor and a community leader. He was reluctant to move to America because he wanted to continue his efforts to bring peace to the Karen community. Do you have any memory of your life in your home country? I was very young at the time. When we lived in Burma we had to move from place-to-place. Several times my family had to leave everything behind and run into the forest to hide from the soldiers. My father would build bamboo houses for us every place we landed, and then the soldiers would come again. For my whole childhood, we never stopped moving around. One day, though, it was different. I was six and a half years old. I was playing at my friend’s home when suddenly I heard a big explosion. I knew, immediately, that the soldiers had attacked again. My dad was not home so my mom, my seven siblings and I ran for our lives. In the confusion, I got separated from my family. I didn't know what to do, so I just kept on running with other people lost like me. We ran until we reached the Thai border where some kind persons who knew my parents led me back to my mom. I never went back to Burma since then. Can you tell us a bit more about your life in Thailand and your experiences before you arrived in the USA? In Thailand, we were given a very small piece of land to live on. That place became our refugee camp. We were not planning to live there long, but a year passed, and then 3 more years passed. It seemed like there was no chance we could go back over the border to our home. Instead, more and more people kept moving to our refugee camp. Life in the refugee camp was not easy. We were not allowed to leave the camp. So, we stayed there, living in small bamboo houses with no electricity or running water, no access to information such as television, newspapers or any other form of media. But most importantly, there was very limited access to education and no opportunity to learn beyond high school. What was the hardest thing for you in the camp? Soon after we arrived in Thailand a big misfortune hit my family when one of my older sisters fell ill. We had no idea what was wrong with her. My father was a traditional Karen doctor and he did manage to keep her alive but her strength continued to decline. To provide her with modern treatment was too expensive for us so we just decided to accept God’s will and pray for help. Along with us, all the churches in the refugee camp prayed for her and one day, a friend who worked with the UNHCR heard of my sister's story and helped get her into a hospital in the USA! She became the first person in my family to resettle to the USA. My brother and another sister went with her to provide bone marrow for transplant. Soon after, I turned 18 and became old enough follow them to the USA. What was your first impression on arrival to the USA? How did you adapt to such a different environment? I arrived in Utica, NY on June 19, 2008. The happiest day of my life! For the first time in my life I saw cars, beautiful houses, trees, flowers, streets, and many different looking people with features that I had never seen in my life before. I was also quite scared. I didn't know much about the American culture. Fortunately, I quickly found a wonderful church, a great school, a nice wooden house and made many great friends. It took more than a year to understand the language, food, clothing styles, music, and many other things. Now, I really like my life here but it has been difficult at the beginning. I feel truly blessed! How did you adapt to the American school system? The beginning was beyond difficult! But I worked hard, graduated from high school and in spring 2013, I finished among the top 5 percent of my class at Mohawk Valley Community College. I was awarded two scholarships to continue my studies at Hartwick College in International Studies. I graduated with my Bachelor Degree in spring 2014 and got awarded the Duffy Family Ambassador Scholarship to continue my research in the summer. I also got invited to speak about refugees issue on UN Youth Day at United Nation Headquarter in NYC. And what are your plans for the future? Do you plan on working for the cause of the refugees? Yes, definitely, I already started! In 2012, I created a group called, American and Refugee Students for Closer Connection (ARSCC) to bring better understanding between young refugees and Americans. Today, we have about 1,335 members across the country to join us on Facebook. I have a dream that all the young refugees in the USA will be able to go to high school and college someday. I also plan to continue my graduate studies and one day get a PhD in international human rights law with a focus on refugee issues. I do not forget where I came from or what I have been through to get here and I really wish I could one day work for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to spend my life helping other refugee people around the world as I have been helped. I still have a long way to go but I will get there! I have been blessed and I want to give back at least a little bit of what God gave me!

  • Junior College Graduates from Tham Hin Camp
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    Brains are not enough in the pursuit of higher education in the camps along the Thai/Myanmar border. With limited opportunities and resources, financial and family pressures pulling kids away from school, and an uncertain future, young people must also be brave, determined, and full of hope. On April 1st, 23 students were celebrated as the third graduating class of Tanawthari Junior College in Tham Hin camp. While the rituals were the same as those of many higher education institutions – long black gowns, the collection of calligraphy adorned diplomas, the proud beaming faces of family members, the movement of the tassel across the mortarboard, and the uncomfortable (and clearly unfamiliar) high heels worn by the graduating women – the Junior College and its graduates are unique. In the camps, you have to really want it – the chance to learn and grow academically, a shot at a different future, the opportunity to pursue a unique dream – to make it to graduation day. According to a study of out-of-school youth conducted by UNHCR in Tham Hin last year, 20% of school age children were not attending school. Many of the children with whom UNHCR spoke stated they quit school because they had simply lost interest, particularly as they felt they had a limited future that would not be broadened by a camp education. Other kids stated they left school because they needed to assist their families either financially or domestically. So it is belief in themselves, hope for their future, and supportive families that enabled this year’s class to complete the two-year junior college program. Naw Thida, a recent graduate, arrived in Tham Hin with her parents in 2010 speaking not a word of Karen. The now 19-year-old Mon student was determined to obtain an education while in camp and “studied and tried and cried” her way through high school and emerged not only fully fluent in Karen but with a dream of becoming a doctor. Saw Pee Eh Ler, a 20-year-old graduate who fled Myeita in 2005 with his family, stayed in school despite the fact that many of his friends dropped out because, for him, “education is the most important thing a person can chase”. He hopes to return to Myeita one day where he will start his own business building and repairing cars. Naw Thida and Saw Pee Eh Ler admit graduation from Tanawthari is simply another step in what will be a long journey toward achieving their dreams. Both young people are now hoping to attend a second level of junior college education that has been set up in several programs along the Thai/Myanmar border. Entrance exams for these coveted spots were held in Tham Hin in February and results should come soon. As required of those who graduate from Tanawthari, both are working for their community in camp as they await their next step. The junior college system along the Thai/Myanmar border is not accredited in Myanmar or Thailand. Advanced study in Thai institutions is very difficult to pursue for administrative, financial, and legal reasons and colleges and universities in Myanmar do not recognize the Karen-based education curriculum that camp-based students study in secondary school and the junior college. But these young people keep trying, keep studying, keep moving with the understanding that learning, in and of itself, has value, the hope that new opportunities will arise for them, and the belief that dreams are within their reach.

  • Interview with Naw Po, Assistant Camp Leader and Camp Education Coordinator
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    Ms. Naw Po, a 60-year-old Karen woman, has dedicated her work to education since she was young. Her determination continues when she arrived in Nupo camp in 1997, where she was elected as the Assistant Camp Leader and the Camp Education Coordinator. Naw Po’s dream is to see Karen people having good education and to have a better life either in the camp or back home. She prefers to stay behind to support the younger generations to grow and become successful. Ms. Naw Po, could you briefly tell us about yourself? My name is Naw Po. I was born on 20 July 1954 in a village called Paw Lu in Myawaddy, Kayin State. When I was young, I went to study in Nyi Nuang until Grade 8. I love teaching very much so I decided to return to my village where I started working as a teacher since 1971. I taught Karen and Math. Later I married my husband, he is from another village, and we have 3 children. I also adopted 3 children. In 1985 my family has to move to another village due to an armed conflict between KNU and the Myanmar soldiers. Later in 1997, there was another fighting in my village. I was so afraid and I wanted my children to be away from hostility so I decided to flee to Nupo camp in Thailand. In Nupo, I worked as a school principal (and a teacher) between 1997 and 2008. Working as a teacher in the camp is tough as we are underpaid. As a headmaster, it is hard to help my teachers to sufficiently earn a living. People in the camp are poor. Some students are very poor and have nothing. We need to be united and help each other. Why do you like being a teacher? Being a teacher, I have a chance to help others for their better future. And teachers do not work only for money; we work to support other people. I feel so proud when I saw my students grew up and became doctors, medic staff or when seeing them successful in their careers. Can you tell us more about your previous assignment? I am a Camp Committee member since 2008 and I was appointed as a Camp Education Coordinator for KRCEE for 3 years. In the 2012 Camp Committee Election, I was elected with the second highest score among 40 nominees and I am one of the two female Camp Committee members. I am currently working as Assistant Camp Leader. I assist the Camp Leader in many issues, especially issues related to education and schools. I am also in charge when the Camp Leader is away. Is there any difficulty working as a female Assistant Camp Leader? No problem. They respect women during my work and there is no discrimination against women staff. I feel equal. In this camp all people are treated the same. What is your view about education with regard to Karen people? Karen people do not have a chance to study in high education and a lot of them are not even educated. I myself only finished Grade 8. My wish is to see Karen people to have good education. We have very hardship in Myanmar and I think that having good education will help us very much wherever our future is. What do you think about the current situation in the camp? Nupo camp residents do not seem to listen to the leaders, especially recently when the food ration is cut. The situation in the camp is getting tougher as they feel stressed out and depressed. When asked whether she wants to join her children in the resettlement country, Ms. Naw Po said “I am too old to go. I will not have a job there and I prefer to stay here (in the camp) and help my people” “I want to thank all organizations who support and encourage us in everything, be it health, education, food and shelter. Also to those organizations who helped with the resettlement of refugees, and I wish that the PREs and unregistered populations will be given with that opportunity as well. Lastly, I want to thank this interview. It makes me proud of myself. I never have a chance to talk with UNHCR like this before” Interviewed by Praparat Khachornboon Field Office Mae Sot – May 2014

  • Karenni Got Talent – Exclusive interview with Doughty: The Karenni Traditional Dance Band of Ban Mae Nai Soi
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    This year, the traditional dance band, Doughty won the first price and they agreed to meet with UNHCR for an exclusive interview for our next Cross Border Bulletin. I am sure our readers will be excited to read and learn more about them! How long have you all known each other? How did you meet? - We all met in the camp. Most of us come from Section 1 and we went to the same school when we were kids. We are all between 15 and 19 years old. So it was easy to gather everybody and form the band. And who came up with the idea of the band? And when did you form your band? - At the beginning we would gather after school not having any precise plan of what to do with our free time. So Poe Duh, a very dynamic man from our section came up with the idea of forming a dance band. - The band was first formed in 2008 and he is still our group mentor and is very helpful with organizing training session and rehearsals. What’s the origin of the name of your band? - Poe Duh actually came up with the name! Doughty means brave, persistent. This is something we need to be everyday not to lose hope and keep working hard to build a better future for us, our family and our community. So this name is like a reminder of the attitude we need to have towards life. - And also towards our public! It can be hard to perform in front of big crowds. Even if it is our families or friends, we still need to be brave to face so many people at one time for our shows. What made you choose the traditional form of dance? - We have left our home country for a long time and if we do not make an effort to preserve our culture, it will disappear in the end. This is why we agreed on learning our traditional dances. - It is a good way for us to keep our culture alive and to let our friend know about our heritage. What has been your biggest challenge as a band? - The band composition has changed a lot since it was first created. Many of the original members went on to be resettled. - But Poe Duh managed to recruit new members and we worked hard to train and integrate any new member so that the band can be united and perform together. It is a bit challenging but so far we managed to keep the band alive. - We also have a hard time to find traditional costumes for our performances. Some of us need to borrow, some even have to rent. But we always manage to be ready on time. The people from the Karenni Social Welfare and Development Center have often helped on that. What would be your wildest dream for the band? - I would like to perform in Bangkok one day. We have been in Thailand for so long and I would like to see Bangkok one day… - I want to perform in Yangoon to show the Karenni culture there! Are you thinking of performing in Kayah on day? - Performing in Kayah would be great. I heard this may be possible soon. - Yes, a lot of people say that it might be possible to return soon. A show in Loikaw would be nice! What advice do you have for people who want to form their own bands? Just be DOUGHTY! Thanks a lot guys! UNHCR would like to thank COERR, and especially their Mae Hong Son team, for organizing Karenni Got Talent 2014. This yearly event is the greatest occasion for young people living in Ban Mae Nai Soi to share their passion with their community.

  • Nga Reh: the fears of a father
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    12-year-old Oo Meh is sitting with her favourite niece who is just 14 months old but already appears aware of her Aunt’s disabilities, tenderly sharing her fresh cucumber snack with Oo Meh. Oo Meh’s father Nga Reh watches the girls carefully: “We don’t really know what is wrong with Oo Meh. She was born like this. She has never walked, she can’t see properly and is unable to speak but she can communicate in her own way. We have to feed her carefully as she is unable to swallow properly. I worry about her all the time.” When Nga Reh fled Myanmar with his wife and four children, they never thought they would still be living in exile so many years later. Oo Meh was born here in the Ban Mai Nai Soi camp. Nga Reh however worries about the future of his family and his community here in Thailand. "We have no choice but to stay here," he says. "We can't go home yet because it is not safe and what will be there for us? Here at least we can get some help for Oo Meh – we just want a good future for her.” Staff at one of the medical clinics in the camp in Northern Thailand where Oo Meh lives suspect she has a neurological condition but a diagnosis is of little use here. Instead UNHCR through our local partners helps to ensure access to basic medical services and protection support, so that Oo Meh will be kept safe in the future. "My wife and I really worry about Oo Meh, especially what will happen to her after we pass away. She is our youngest child and we love her. But will my older children look after her properly? They have their own families. We worry about her future every day.” But Nga Reh knows that at least Oo Meh will at least get the medical care she needs. The camp has a basic but well run medical clinic and Nga Reh says all of the care she has received to date has been very good. Up to an estimated 3.5 million refugees and internally displaced people live with disabilities in refugee camps and urban slums and one third of these disabled people are children.

  • Nya Reh: hoping for a settled future
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    Ku Seh’s breathing is shallow in his sleep. His father hovers anxiously near him, carefully lifting his small faded t-shirt as nurses check his vital signs. Ku Seh is very unwell and the staff at the small clinic, in the refugee camp where he lives, are worried he is not responding to antibiotics. “In Burma our house was far from clinics - there is no way we could have taken a child to a clinic if ill and besides, even if we did, as Karenni we would have had to pay a lot of money for treatment. It's very good to have this clinic and the medics. They are doing their best for Ku Seh. It's also free which is very good for our people,” says Nya Reh, Ku Seh’s 42-year-old father. Ku Seh has a very high fever, a urinary tract infection and is severely dehydrated – the doctor at the clinic is concerned the infection has already progressed to his kidneys and all they can do is wait for test results. “I brought my wife and older children to safety here in Thailand around 1996 and then I joined them about eight years ago. I wanted us to be together, not separate. It was very difficult for me to stay in Burma as I was a soldier, but I also still find it difficult to live here,” says Nya Reh. Nya Reh said that when the family first arrived they were registered officially with UNHCR and then welcomed by the section leader of the camp, who also distributed basic food supplies, shelter materials, blankets and mats to the new arrivals. They felt safe and secure but Nya Reh knew that Thailand could never be a permanent home. Together there is safety When asked about his hopes for the future, Nya Reh ponders it for some time, lovingly picking up his little boy who has just woken upset and confused in the unfamiliar surroundings. “I don't know what my hopes and dreams are for the future....” says Nya Reh. “I have hopes for my children - I want them to be educated and to make better life for themselves, here or somewhere else. We might have the help we need but this camp, this is not our future.” “I don't know about Burma, I don't know. It would depend on the situation. It's not safe for us at the moment and so we can't return. But maybe, if we all go back together, as one people together, then maybe it will be safe. That is the hope in the future. That united and together we can return.”

  • Me Meh: accessing healthcare when needed
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    Baby Soe Ma is very unwell. The little girl is clammy and pale, with a yellowish tinge to her skin. Her big eyes look around the medical clinic where she is staying, but she does not fuss or cry, just holds tightly to the finger of her mother Me Meh. Me Meh looks exhausted with worry – a worry based on the pain that she faced battling malaria. As Me Meh fled Myanmar 11 years ago, she was worried only about the immediate threats. Along with her husband she walked through the dark night in the mosquito ridden jungles, focused only on trying to reach safety in Thailand. “When I contracted malaria it was terrible,” says Me Meh. “We knew about it and had been careful at home but we had no choice but to walk at night, when the mosquitoes are out more. It was terrible. I was so ill. I couldn’t eat and it was difficult to walk. It took a long time to get better and it still make me ill to this day. This is why I worry about Soe Ma.” “I’m not sure what is wrong,” says Me Meh. “She has had a cough that just would not go and then two days ago she got a fever. I brought her in here as I didn’t know what else to do and I’m very worried it could be something dangerous like Malaria.” Nurses at the small but well-run health clinic in the Ban Mai Nai Soi refugee camp in Northern Thailand assure Me Meh that they do not suspect malaria. Instead the doctor thinks Soe Ma is severely anemic and this has left her little body run-down and susceptible to other illnesses like colds. After one night in the clinic and a basic course of medicine, her fever has broken and even the cough is easing. As a precaution blood samples have been taken and sent to a laboratory for analysis and Soe Ma will stay one more night and be given a course of iron medicine to improve her blood count. “One of the best things in Thailand is the health care and medicine. We could not afford anything like this in Burma. There was no clinic near me for treatment anyway. I am pleased I can bring Soe Ma here to get her checked. This is very good. I am still worried but at least I can see they are working to make her better,” says Me Meh. “This is not our home. A camp is not a home forever. We would go back if we could – if it was safe and I hope one day we will. But at least here our children can be educated and learn our language. They can also be healthy and being healthy is everything if we are going to fight to change our future.” - A total of 1 million deaths occur annually due to malaria, and 30% of these are estimated to be in conflict-affected countries in Africa

  • E Meh and Kyey Reh - building a future from fear and ashes
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    The little grocery stall is busy with a steady stream of customers. Brightly coloured packs of sweets, crisps and home-baked crispy noodles hang from the eaves, bottles of soda are neatly stacked, and piles of locally sourced vegetables and fruit sit in woven baskets ready for purchase. Kyey Reh and E Meh both come from farming families in Karenni State, Myanmar. Now, they are small storeowners in the Ban Mai Nai Soi camp in Northern Thailand. After saving up money from rearing pigs and accessing a small loan from a UNHCR partner, four years ago they were able to open their stall and start building a better future for themselves and their children. Kyey Reh does not know how old he is, just that he was a teenager when he fled Myanmar. It was 1996 – a year marked by brutal fighting between the Burmese military and Karenni independence forces, and a year of mass exodus for many in fear of their lives. Four years later and refugees from Karenni state were still fleeing from Myanmar. E Meh was one of them – she was 17 years old when she fled her village in 2000 with other young people, walking for more than a month to reach the border with Thailand. So many years on and today E Meh and Kyey Reh have three children and are looking forward to a day when life will become more permanent and free – either here in Thailand or if safe, back in Myanmar. “We work hard to provide for our children,” says E Meh.”It makes us very happy to know the children can go to school here also. I have some basic schooling but my husband has none. We want them to be educated people and we are very proud of them.”

  • I Ne Meh: forced to tackle a new world
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    It is over a decade since I Ne Meh has seen her parents. At the age of 17 she was forced by them to leave their homeland in Karenni state, Myanmar and head to the refugee camps of Northern Thailand where they were certain she would find a better, safer future. It was 2003 when I Ne Meh reached the Ban Mai Nai Soi refugee camp in Northern Thailand. On arrival she found some other distant relatives but alone, and missing her parents, she was homesick and uncertain of her future. “When I got here I was lonely and I missed my parents. I worried about them and even though it is safe here, I thought a lot about what I saw in Burma. I was just 17. I heard I could go to school here and so I went to learn and try to finish some of my final years of education.” Providing an education to children is not only important in terms of development, it is also one of the best ways to keep children safe. School helped to open the world to I Ne Meh. She made friends with classmates and was a very hard worker; quickly catching up on the years of study she had missed in Myanmar. She also met the love of her life and, the man whom she met three years after arriving, became her husband. “I enjoyed school very much and this is also where I met my husband – he was also studying and supported me to finish high school,” says I Ne Meh. “After three years here we got married. We are from different areas of Burma so I would not have met him if I hadn’t come here.” Unprotected to protector - Today, as a mother of two young boys aged six and three, I Ne Meh is a Child Protection Monitor in the camp, using the education she was given to help to protect other Karenni children who are at risk. “I have been a child protection monitor for five years,” says I Ne Meh. “I love my work here, I like helping children who are less happy than mine. It is hard life here so this is very good and important work here.” “I often have cases of children who are living with elderly grandparents and as the grandparents cannot work so that they don't have enough food – we monitor their situation to make sure they are ok. Sometimes children just do not have good care from parents and we talk with them and educate them to help them understand and find ways to look after the children better.”

  • Mr Ei Reh, Chairman of Ban Mae Nai Soi Camp Committee since 1991
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    In early 1986, the Myanmar government of the time launched a “4 cuts campaign” in Kayah State. Burma Army patrols and columns approached the area I was living in which caused a vast displacement. I was head of my village at the time and I decided to take my people away from the danger. On April 5, 1986, the whole village fled across the mountains. After walking for two days we reached the Thai border near the village of Nai Soi. We approach the local Thai police officer who let us settle near the village. Then, with new refugees coming in 1993 and 1996, we had to move to accommodate them. Eventually, Ban Mae Nai Soi was set up in 2002 and we still live here today. My main concern was the children. How would we educate them? We had nothing at first. After settling in the first shelters, we started a school but we could not teach beyond Grade 4 (early middle school). Thanks to all the people who help us here, today we can teach our children all the way to Post-10 and give them a decent education. Once we arrived in Thailand, the big challenge was to keep the community together, to maintain the identity alive. We had to mix with people speaking different dialect, with different beliefs. This made things really hard for the parents and for the leaders to preserve the tradition in the community. I am getting old! It’s time to hand over to the next generation. We have a lot of younger people, with a lot of energy and fresh ideas. There is a lot left to do for them. My generation has preserved the memory of our people. We passed on the traditions. Now they have to and have to build a real future for themselves and the community. Of course, I will always be around to help them if they need me. But, I have been serving since 1991. I want to get some rest! What I wish is that the new generation leader will manage to keep the community united. I hope they will be able to bring us back home, to Myanmar and keep the same spirit and the same value we have transmitted to them. Education is the key. They need to keep learning, keep working hard and with everyone’s help, I am hopeful that we will finally have a brighter future.

  • 16 Days of Activism against Sexual and Gender Based Violence
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    "If I were with Camp Security, I would work together with the Camp Committee and the community to address gender based violence. This is not the problem of one person but the responsibility of all."

  • Voices of the Youth
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    "I think the future is good for me. In the future, if I could have an opportunity to study more, I would like to work for reconciliation."

  • Voices of the Youth
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    Future is "Happiness, peaceful life and no difficulty"

  • International Peace Day 2013: Art Competition
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    “I want peace not war for people to hold hands for peace. Our eyes should see positive things not negative things. We have to stop fighting as war causes tears. Saw Eh Ha Tha, aged 20

  • International Peace Day 2013: Art Competition
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    “I need peace in the future. I want to build a beautiful and peaceful house....” Naw Say Lwe, aged 15

  • The Most Important Thing - a betel nut cracker
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    “It was during the daytime when the Myanmar soldiers came and burnt down our village. Hearing the soldiers approaching near, I was very frightened so I decided to run with my children. I grabbed this nut cracker with me when leaving home because it is a token from my beloved brother given to me before he had married and moved out. After I left my village, I haven’t heard from him since and I have no idea whether he is still alive or not. I’m glad that I took the cracker with me that day because it reminds me of him and moments when we were together……”

  • The Most Important Thing - a prayer bell
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    “There was a heavy fighting close to my village that day. I heard the troops exchanged gunshots very fiercely and then my husband told me to run. Before leaving home, I took my children, clothes and this prayer bell with me. The bell is a present from my mother given to me when I gave birth to my first daughter. My mother said that the bell will bring good luck and would protect me and my child from evil spirits. I hang this bell over the altar near my bed and tinkle it twice a day when I finish praying.…….”

  • Interview with Chairperson of Karenni Refugee Committee - Mahn Saw
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  • Return story from Shadow, Kayah state
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  • Aspirations of a youth-led club and a youth leader in BMN
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  • Livelihoods support to refugee & IDP returnees: Daw Moe Mae
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  • Livelihoods support to refugee & IDP returnees: U Sue Reh
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  • For these scouts,
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  • From Mae La Refugee Camp to Salt Lake City, Japan… and Back
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  • Born in a camp, Kler Heh hopes to break into first team this season with Sheffield United
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  • “Our local center of knowledge and information”: story by Shanti Volunteer Association
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  • Paw Hser Soe Pree, from Nupo to America! An inspiring story from the Thai-Myanmar border
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  • Junior College Graduates from Tham Hin Camp
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  • Interview with Naw Po, Assistant Camp Leader and Camp Education Coordinator
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  • Karenni Got Talent – Exclusive interview with Doughty: The Karenni Traditional Dance Band of Ban Mae Nai Soi
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  • Nga Reh: the fears of a father
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  • Nya Reh: hoping for a settled future
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  • Me Meh: accessing healthcare when needed
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  • E Meh and Kyey Reh - building a future from fear and ashes
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  • I Ne Meh: forced to tackle a new world
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  • Mr Ei Reh, Chairman of Ban Mae Nai Soi Camp Committee since 1991
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  • 16 Days of Activism against Sexual and Gender Based Violence
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  • Voices of the Youth
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  • Voices of the Youth
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  • International Peace Day 2013: Art Competition
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  • International Peace Day 2013: Art Competition
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  • The Most Important Thing - a betel nut cracker
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  • The Most Important Thing - a prayer bell
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  • Norwegian Refugee Council in South-East Myanmar
    02 Sep 2015
    The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is an international non-governmental organisation (NGO). It was set up in Myanmar in October 2008 to respond to Cyclone Nargis. Since then, the organisation has been carrying out projects to help communities affected by conflict across the South-East of the country. NRC is working on three main fields currently:
    Construction of shelter and schools - NRC’s shelter project provides durable shelter to particularly vulnerable persons. The shelter projects include toilets and access to safe drinking water and a proper waste disposal system, which helps reduce malaria and other diseases. The project also provides improved community infrastructure – bridges and roads – so that people can access basic services (health, education) and work/livelihood opportunities, for example, by being able to reach markets. Since starting its shelter programme in 2010, NRC has provided assistance only for the IDPs and their host communities who are eligible for assistance due to their level of vulnerability. So far, NRC has not been involved in the construction of shelter for future refugee returnees (so-called ‘relocation sites’) either by itself or with others.

    NRC also builds new child-friendly primary schools. This provides students, who previously struggled to access school, with education opportunities closer to home. The school compounds have water points or water harvesting, separate toilets for girls and boys, and furniture.

    Since the beginning of NRC’s shelter activities, over 1,300 households have been provided with shelter, while 39 schools have been reconstructed and/or renovated in Kayin/Karen, Kayah/Karenni States and Tanintharyi/Tenasserim Division.

    Vocational Education/Life Skills - NRC has established two Vocational and Life Skills Education (VLE) Centres in South East Myanmar; one in Hpa-an/Paan, Kayin/Karen State and one in Dawei/Tavoy, Tanintharyi/Tenasserim Division. These centres provide a 3-month livelihood training for young people, aged 16-25 years, in dress making, food preservation, motor bike repair and short-term agriculture. The life skills section of the training course aims to prepare young people to deal with challenges in their personal lives and in their work.
    In 2015 NRC will also begin providing onsite teacher professional development for primary school teachers, in two schools built by NRC in Kayin/Karen State. The programme will involve working with teachers to provide quality learning for all children in these school communities.
    During 2014, 468 students (236 female; 232 male) graduated successfully from training courses in the Hpa-an/Paan and Dawei/Tavoy Centres. 600 more students are expected to go through the training cycle by the end of 2015.

    Information, Counselling and Legal Assistance (ICLA) - Since June 2012, NRC has been supporting the Myanmar Ministry of Immigration & Population to speed up the issuance of national identity cards/”pink cards” to conflict-affected communities in the South East. The Citizen Scrutiny Cards help people to exercise their basic rights, including freedom of movement, voting and education (university). They also help people access a number of important government services and to register their property or land. NRC supports the government to travel to villages throughout the South East, issuing cards to people on the same day that they apply for them.


    From the beginning of NRC’s civil documentation activities in 2012 up to the end of July 2015, nearly 353,000 people across the South East were issued with “pink cards”.

    NRC started a new project in May 2015 to help families who received shelter assistance from NRC in Palaw, Tanintharyi/Tenasserim Division, secure the legal rights to their land and shelters.

    In January 2015, NRC also began a Cross-Border project, operating from Kayin/Karen State, which will work to help provide refugees in Thailand with information, from different sources, about developments in the South East of Myanmar. This information is intended to help refugees in Thailand be better informed about the situation in their places of origin or areas of possible return.
    SOURCE  
    NRC
  • Heart to Serve Others
    10 Apr 2015
    Paw Moo, a 20 year old Karen woman, have no secure life. Her village in Myanmar had been attacked by the military. Every day she had to live with fear. She wanted to escape from this situation that might cause her life. One day, unable to tolerate her constipated situation, Paw Moo determinedly headed for Thailand to find a safety place.

    Paw Moo comes from an ethnic tribe from Myanmar, with only a fifth-grade education. In 2005, at the age of 21, she migrated to Thailand with her husband and child and presently lives in one of the many small cottages made of dry leaves and bamboo in Ban Don Yang Refugee Camp.

    Living in the refugee camp was not an easy place with rules and regulations but it gave her hope and safety.

    Paw Moo had always possessed a burning desire to learn more and develop her skills. She genuinely wanted to develop herself to dedicate her life to others. Paw Moo explained, “I knew that I could help others with the little I had, but I believed if I could develop myself I could help and serve with greater capacity.”

    It happened in one day Paw Moo heard from friends about ADRA’s Vocational Training to prepare for transition project, visited the grounds, and decided to sign up.

    ADRA Thailand’s Vocational Training to Prepare for Transition Project works in seven temporary shelters along the Thai-Myanmar border, offer various courses base on their interest and need; basic construction, hospitality, cooking and baking, sewing level 1, sewing level 2, hair cutting, hair dressing, electrical wiring and repairs, motorcycle and small engine repairs, basic computer.

    “I decided to take advantage of the trainings since they were free and open to all who wanted to learn, so I enrolled for the sewing classes. I felt the need to develop my skills!” replied Paw Moo emphatically.

    Paw Moo has now completed the training and proudly holds a certificate notarized by the Office of Vocational Education Commission (OVEC).

    When asked what she loved most about the training, Paw Moo delightfully responded, “I love how the trainers are so very patient with each student, explaining each step while also demonstrating each different technique. I clearly see compassion reflected in them.”

    “When I look back, I notice a stark difference in my life. Life in Myanmar was very difficult. Having no money meant no education and school was very far away,” remarked Paw Moo, “But now, here in camp, I have access to everything I need: training courses, food, medicine, church, etc.”

    Paw Moo further talked about her future plans, “With the sewing skills I have received from the training, I hope that each cloth I sew will radiate love to whoever receives it, I sew clothes for my friends and relatives. Though currently I do not have a clothing store I know I can still bring love to the unloved and hope to the hopeless, even if it is just in a small way.”
    SOURCE  
    ADRA
    READ MORE  
    http://www.adrathailand.org/news-a-updates/news-from-adra/177-heart-to-serve-others.html
  • Women in rural Myanmar lead the conversation on family planning
    08 Apr 2015
    Hpa-An, Kayin State, Myanmar—Three years ago Ahnaw* collapsed on the floor of her house in a small rural village in eastern Myanmar. When she came to, she realized she was bleeding heavily from what turned out to be a miscarriage.

    “I didn’t even know I was pregnant,” the 36-year-old recalls, seated in front of a Buddhist shrine in her living room. “They told me when I got to the hospital. They said I was lucky to survive.”

    As a result of her experience, Ahnaw is now part of an International Rescue Committee program that trains hundreds of women in Myanmar’s Kayin state to become advocates for birth-spacing and safe pregnancies. These “mother support groups” spread their messages in village gatherings or by going door-to-door, targeting families with many children or young families with children born in quick succession.

    “It’s now our job to inform women and young girls how to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies,” Ahnaw says. “And if they are pregnant we inform them about the health services that are available in their community.”

    Those services are few and far in between. Myanmar’s health system is in shambles after decades of neglect and fighting between ethnic independence groups and government forces. Most rural hospitals and clinics lack trained health staff and proper equipment.

    As a result, the maternal mortality rate in Myanmar is one of the highest in the region, according to a recent United Nations study.

    Almost 90 percent of deaths occur in rural areas, where poor infrastructure makes it even harder to reach a clinic. About a quarter of people in Kayin State live below the poverty line and the standards for maternal and child care are among the lowest in the country.

    In Kayin, as well as other rural communities in Myanmar, family planning is often frowned upon by conservative community members and religious leaders. Nationwide, the use of condoms and other contraceptives is less than 40 percent, according to government figures. Only 15 percent of married women in Kayin have access to modern family planning services.

    “People want large families, but often cannot care for all their children,” says Ralf Thill, the IRC’s Myanmar director. “It makes poor villages even poorer.”

    Another problem in rural Myanmar is young mothers. Thill says 18-year-olds with three children are not uncommon.

    “We have seen mothers as young as 14,” he says. “In these communities, information is key.”

    Abortion is generally illegal in Myanmar, resulting in clandestine, often life-threatening, terminations.

    “Because they are performed in secret by unskilled practitioners, we see a lot of complications, including death,” Thill says.

    To help, IRC staff helps refer women with post-abortion trauma to hospitals and specialists.

    In the village of Yae Kyaw, a group of women has gathered to listen to the local mother support group. One of its members, Daw Aye Than, displays a range of contraceptives, unleashing a barrage of questions from the crowd.

    “What are the side-effects from hormonal injections?” one woman asks.

    “Is an IUD harmful if you keep it for a long time?” another one demands.

    Daw Aye Than says that there are still a lot of unawareness about reproductive biology in the villages where she works.

    “Women have never heard of certain contraceptives and some think it is impossible to get pregnant after 40, so they stop protecting themselves,” she says.

    Another common problem seldom discussed is uterine prolapse, says Daw Aye Than, referring to a condition where the womb slides out of its normal position after multiple childbirths and heavy lifting.

    “These subjects are often taboo, but they are very important” she says. “And someone has to provide the answers.”

    *Names were changed to protect the woman's privacy*.
    SOURCE  
    IRC
    READ MORE  
    http://www.rescue.org/blog/women-rural-Myanmar-lead-conversation-family-planning
  • Birth Registration gives refugee babies a good start in life
    09 Oct 2013
    In September 2008 Thailand's Civil Registration Act was implemented. Under the revised law all children born in the country are entitled to birth registration even if their parents are not Thai nationals. This is an important step to prevent statelessness among a new generation of refugees. Since 2010 and up until the end of September 2013, more than 8,279 babies have received birth certificates in the nine Temporary Shelters.
    SOURCE  
    UNHCR
    READ MORE  
    http://www.unhcr.org/50604a959.html
  • 88 Myanmar refugees graduate from ACTED's Vocational Training courses
    04 Oct 2013
    Since the beginning of 2013, ACTED is working in two refugee camps along the Thai-Myanmar border, on building the vocational and life skill base of young displaced populations from Myanmar and preparing them for eventual return to their home country. The 10 vocational training courses on offer range from hotel management, office management, tailoring/sewing, construction to hairdressing/beauty therapy, motorbike repair and preparation and preserving of food products among others. These courses have been carefully designed with particular attention paid to the needs of the Myanmar labour market. ACTED closely collaborates with the Nawamintrachine Mae Hong Son Industrial and Community Education College and the Karenni Education Department’s Vocational Training and Non-Formal Education (KnED-VTNFE) unit which ensures quality teaching and a curriculum in line with international TVET standards. A first group of 88 students have now graduated from 150 hours of technical vocational training and 75 hours of life skill development. They will now further enhance their skills through a 6-8 week internship program with private sector employers in Myanmar and Thailand. ACTED plans to provide a further 1,100 young Myanmar refugees with technical vocational education in the coming 2 years. The project is supported by the European Union.

    Between September and December 2012, ACTED conducted a nationwide research interviewing about one hundred decision makers from large companies, small and medium enterprises, vocational training (VT) institutions, as well as governmental authorities and reviewing existing secondary data available.
    This also involved a field visit to Kayah State in order to get specific elements on potential return areas for refugees. The objective is to provide the Development community (government, donors, NGOs etc.) with a better vision of the existing Myanmar job market needs in order to:
    - Support improved relevance of the existing VT curricula in both Myanmar and Thailand (Refugee camps at the Thai-Myanmar border)
    - Clarify the needs for life skills development as a complement to VT
    - Identify practical measures to allow for young Myanmar people in the Thai camps to develop a work experience in their home country and get an exposure to the reality of today's Myanmar
    - Provide information to support the exchanges between Myanmar and Thai authorities regarding harmonization of curricula (certificates/diploma) and identification of relevant VT courses
    SOURCE  
    ACTED
    READ MORE  
    http://www.acted.org/en/88-myanmar-refugees-graduate-vocational-training-courses
  • International Rescue Committee's (IRC) Legal Assistance Center (LAC)
    19 Sep 2013
    International Rescue Committee's (IRC) Legal Assistance Center (LAC)

    The Legal Assistance Center project promotes the rule of law and access to justice for Burmese refugees in Thailand. Since 2007 LAC has established centers in 5 camps (Mae La, Umpiem, Nupo, Ban Mai Nai Soi and Ban Mae Surin) and is currently serving approximately 100,000 refugee beneficiaries in total. The LAC project focuses on strengthening engagement and capacity of camp and Thai authorities, increase legal awareness, and helping refugees assert their rights and access legal remedies.

    The LAC project is implemented by IRC in partnership with UNHCR, and in close collaboration with Royal Thai Government (RTG), Thai civic society, the refugee leadership and community-based organizations.

    LAC works to improve access to justice for refugees in Thailand by:
    - Providing legal counselling and support to refugees.
    - Proving training and information about legal standards, justice systems, and their rights and responsibilities.
    - Providing technical and capacity-building support to refugee and camp leadership.
    - Engaging Thai justice and other authorities and Thai civil society to ensure access to justice for refugees living in Thailand.
    - Preparation for possibility voluntary return on the knowledge and skill or principle of law, basic human rights, civic education, good governance, negotiation techniques, restorative justice as well as the basic RoL system in Myanmar.
    SOURCE  
    IRC
    READ MORE  
    http://www.rescue.org/irc-thailand
  • Agricultural Activities for Income Generation (AAIG) - ZOA
    19 Sep 2013
    ZOA has been supporting around 500 refugees and Thai villagers along the Thai-Myanmar border with Agricultural Activities for Income Generation (AAIG) in Mae La and Umpiem Mai Camps in Tak Province.
    The AAIG project, including organic farming and livestock production, aims at equipping refugees with skills that they can use to support their livelihoods and become less dependent on external assistance.
    SOURCE  
    ZOA
    READ MORE  
    http://www.zoa-international.com/content/resultaten-7
  • Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA)
    05 Sep 2013
    ADRA is a global humanitarian organization of the Seven-day Adventist Church, which works with people in poverty and distress to create just and positive change through empowering partnerships and responsible action. ADRA's Vocational Training for Refugees from Myanmar (VTRM) project contributes to enhancing self reliance and quality of life for the population in nine temporary shelters along the Thai-Myanmar border.
    The VTRM project works closely with camp-based community organizations to organize and conduct Vocational Training. All VTRM courses in nine temporary shelters are run by trainers and partners from the camp committees. In order to enhance trainer's skills and course quality, ADRA Thailand cooperates with Thai Vocational Training Colleges to Training of Trainers (ToT). All training courses are conducted in equipped camp buildings. The project works closely with camp based community organizations to ensure the maintenance of VT buildings and provides material and equipment as necessary.
    SOURCE  
    ADRA Thailand
    READ MORE  
    http://www.adrathailand.org/programs/vocational-training-for-refugees-from-myanmar-project.html




Currently there are 102,412 refugees who are residing in the nine temporary shelters on the Thai-Myanmar border.
The changing situation in Myanmar presents significant challenges for refugees and all concerned actors working with refugees.
REFUGEES
Over 220,000 persons fleeing violence in Myanmar have been admitted to safety since 1984.
From the asylum claims presented to The Provincial Admissions Board, to-date over 102,000 refugees have been registered by the Ministry of Interior and UNHCR.
Access to services including food, shelter, health and education is assured to the approximate 120,000 residents of the nine camps, irrespective of whether they have been formally registered or not.
The situation in Myanmar is quickly evolving since the formation of a civilian government in March 2011.
Temporary Shelters in Thailand
BAN MAI NAI SOI
9,915
BAN MAE SURIN
2,388
MAE RA MA LUANG
11,007
MAE LA
37,217
MAE LA OON
9,851
UMPIEM
11,946
NU PO
11,083
BAN DON YANG
2,777
THAM HIN
6,228
THAILAND