This is very bad news from Southeast Asia: ethnic Karen refugees from Burma are being deported by the Thai government back to a landmine-infested camp in Burma. According to the Burma Campaign UK,
[On February 5] Three families, nine women and four children, including a nine month old baby, were forced back into Burma before the deportations were halted. The halt coincided with the arrival of foreign diplomats and NGOs. Thai authorities had originally blocked their entry to the camp. There is great concern that the Thais will restart the forced deportations soon.
You can read more about the situation here on The Irrawaddy news website.
I asked my friend Alan Senauke, founder of the Clear View Project, what we might do to support these people. His response was not optimistic: “There is a lot of governmental and NGO response to this at a very high level. And negative press all over Asia, including Thailand. A letter to the Thai prime minister was sent yesterday by 30 or so US congress people. Also, the State Department has commented. The painful entanglements and complicity of Thailand and Burma is deeply painful. I have not often seen the Thai government be responsive to outside opinion.”
One thing you can do is send an online letter to Thai officials urging them to stop the deportation. (With thanks to Genju of 108 zen books for the link.)
This may be one of those times when the best thing we can do is send lots of metta in the direction of the refugees as well as the Thai government.
There are also articles on Mizzama
I would encourage reading Zoya Phan’s book Little Daughter http://www.zoyaphan.com/ to learn about the persecution of the Karens especially the frequent raids on the refugee camps. Sadly, this is not new – just more direct.
Many of the Karen who have came to the U.S. are right here in my home state of Minnesota. They make up over half of my current adult ESL students, and I have made deep connections with these people, more so maybe than any others I have worked with over the years as a teacher. This is an old issue – at least a good 75 years of struggle and oppression, dating back to the Karen’s support of Britain during WWII.
My sense, given all the different groups I have worked with who had been in Thailand (Karen, Hmong, Karenni, among them), is that Thailand has increasingly been desiring an end to all support of refugees, and their actions have followed. There repatriations of both Hmong refugees to Laos, as well as this small group of Karen, show the direction their government has been moving for most of the last decade.
It’s a bad situation, and like Mr. Senauke, I don’t know how much we can do at this point. Offers of resettlement in countries like the U.S. and Australia, both of which have significant new Karen populations, could be an option. But both nations have been slowing the acceptance process down.
Genju and Nathan, thanks for offering more perspectives and resources on the situation.