“It is like a cage. I am just allowed to live here. All the people in this camp in this camp are not allowed to go outside. For me, I have to live here and I am not allowed to go outside, go anywhere I want.”
Place: Refugee Camp #1, Mae Hong Son, Thailand
Interview by Lena Dorfschmidt
Can you tell me about how you came here?
As for myself. I have been here for almost 20 years. I was born in the Karenni State, in a very rural place. I was only a child when I arrived here, I was only about three years old. I just can’t remember well how I was growing up in my homeland. I grew up in this refugee camp. As for me, I have been living here for a long time.
It is like a cage. I am just allowed to live here. All the people in this camp in this camp are not allowed to go outside. For me, I have to live here and I am not allowed to go outside, go anywhere I want. That is why I grew up here, from being a little child till here.
Do you know why your family came here?
Very sure because of the civil war between the Burmese military and the tribal groups. Because of the political situations we had to move here – we were gonna be slaves or we were gonna die in our land. That is why we had to move here and come to this side of the border. That is why we are still alive today. We might have lost our life in the past. That is why my parents decided to move here, because of the unstable situation and the war.
Can you tell me about how life in the camp is?
Yes, as for me, it is very boring. We just live in a very, very small community and we don’t have knowledge of the outside world. We can’t use internet or we can’t get a lot of knowledge of the outside world, of foreigners. That is why for many young people, like me, we get bored living here for a long, long time. So we really want to fight for change, that we can go outside, enjoy any system an educational system or maybe resettlement programs. Or the way that many people want: They just want the political situation to be stable, to get peace and to go back to our own land and settle our lives in our land.
You said you don’t have internet. You don’t have electricity either, do you?
Yes, sure we don’t have electricity.
No phone connection either?
Phone connections sometimes, but it doesn’t really work. If you want to use it, you have to go outside. To use internet, you have to go to Ban Nai Soi or anywhere in Thailand. Then you can use the phone. As we live here, we don’t get anything. We don’t really know anything about internet.
How does information come here?
We have newspaper, newspaper from KT. We can also listen to the radio. As for many people, young people as me, I usually listen to the radio to get the news and to get knowledge of the world. So I just make myself study.
Can you talk about the educational situation in camp?
Yes, very sure. As we live in this camp the education circumstance, curriculum is also depend on the camp leaders and the process is also made by the camp leaders, with support by the UN. My opinion of the education in camp is good somehow, but not really 100 per cent. I finished high school, and post high school. […]
We don’t have the chance to connect to the outside world and we don’t have many educated people. That is why in my opinion the education in this camp is very low.
Is the education recognized?
Not really, but we just recognize ourselves. It is just recognized by the people in this camp.
You want to achieve higher education –
It depends on me. If I try hard, if I trust myself, I don’t waste my time for useless reasons, if I focus on my education, the dream will become true one day, I hope. The chance will come, it just depends on me trying. [It is] difficult.
[Scholarship givers] don’t trust us, so they don’t allow us to join the scholarship. […] I have UNHCR registration, and they don’t allow the ones that have UNHCR [United Nations High Comission for Refugees], because they are afraid that if they allow us, even if we finish, we could join a resettlement program. That’s why they don’t really want us who have UNHCR registration.
So any further education would have to be abroad?
I don’t have a scholarship abroad, so the way for me to get further education is to apply for resettlement. If I am lucky, maybe the chance comes across when I am somewhere in the world, in a third country. […]
Here, I don’t have the chance to get further education. I feel like I just waste my time. That’s why I just to join […] a resettlement program.
I already applied for the resettlement program, so maybe next month, or in two or three months, I wont be here [anymore]. I will be gone. Somewhere in North America, somewhere in the world – the different side of the world. I just can’t give my promise […]. I really hope I proceed to help my community here, so my hard and my mind always thinks about going somewhere in the world to find opportunities for education.
What is young people’s perspective?
As for our young people. We are looking for better lives, more education. The key thing that we are looking for, we young people, we want peace, we want our country, our Burma, to stay in peace forever. Then we can go back to our homeland, our home state and could get jobs and go get education and develop our own community in our ancestors land. People really don’t want to stay here. We have been here for a long time, that is why we are getting more and more bored. That is why we just want the political situation in Burma to be changed towards something better and to be peaceful. That is our dream.
What is your feeling towards Burma?
As for me, […] until now, you know the educational way, the economy is very bad in Burma. We have to do many things to get better. Mostly people in Burma don’t have jobs, they don’t get better lives, they don’t get suitable living standards, suitable education. So many people in Burma are very poor. It seems like they always starve. It is not fair for me. […] I really feel upset for Burma, my own country. […]
It all depends on the leaders. They shall be honest. They should be good leaders. They should take pity on the civilians. The one who have mercy.
Do you feel connected in Burma?
Yes, because I was born in Kayah State in Burma. And Burma is my home country, I would say that, because I come from Burma. My ancestors, my parents and my people come from Burma. That’s why, I know I am Burmese. I am a Burmese person. We came to Thailand, we live at the Thai border, but we are from Burma. I recognize myself as a Burmese civilian.
What would you say are the main problems in camp?
The main problems in the camp… There are many main problems in the camp. We live here, we can’t get money. Most of our parents don’t have a jobs. They can’t make any profit.
Are they allowed to have jobs?
Not really. We don’t have jobs in the Refugee Camp. For some educated people there is community work like as a teacher, like civil staff. But they can only get very low stipends. That is not really enough to spend for their families. So the key problem is that we don’t have enough cash, money to spend for our families, our lives. That is a big problem for us. We are very poor. We can’t make money from outside, from outside.
How do you get food?
Not [with] money, of course. We just get food from TBBC, like rice, beans, cooking oil, salt. It is only that. We have to go to the jungle, find some vegetables, some fruits from the jungle and make ourselves food. […]
Can you do farming here?
Not really, not legally, but some people, I would say some people, are just doing farming secretely, confidentially, but if the security, the authorities get to know about it, they will punish them. They are not allowed. But some of our parents, because of the lack of food, of vegetables, they just want to do some farming to get at least some vegetables, some fruits from the farm to feed their family members. This is really difficult to work for us, do it secretly. We have to be very careful.
There are some shops in here. […] There are some people that are richer. We are a community. I can’t say, I cannot know why some people are poor, some people are rich in this camp. Some people have families in third countries, like the US, Finnland or Sweden and they get the money from their families there. […]
Where does the water here come from?
It just comes from the stream, a very little stream in the mountains, the jungle. […] The IRC they support the water pipes to bring the water from the jungle to the camp. So we thank them so much.
Sometimes we don’t really have enough water in summer season. We get many problems, we have to go down to the stream and we have to go the jungle, the place where the water is. […] We have to walk a lot in the jungle. […] Sometimes it is really difficult.
How do you see the future?
[…] Firstly, as for me, I am still young and I want firstly, the thing I want the most […] is higher education, to fulfill my lie, to get the benefit for the education in my future. […]
As for my people… […] Some really want to stay here forever, there is some that want to go back and settle in their homeland. The other group, there are three kind of people, they want to go to a third country, resettle and get a better life, education, some better jobs, better living standards.