By Stephanie Fisk
Myanmar (previously Burma) has been under attack since the seventies – by their own government. And it’s not getting any better. Imagine the Mexico/USA frontier; move it to Asia and place it between Myanmar and Thailand. Compared to Myanmar, Thailand appears to be a wealthy country. Just like Mexicans, people from Myanmar are seeking a “better life”; the difference – they are seeking refuge from persecution.
You know those times when your ignorance shines so brightly that it blinds you to the truth even when you are looking it in the eyes. Yes, I know that Myanmar is very poor and a closed country to the Gospel; but I had no idea the extent of persecution taking place within its borders. Just like the Jews during WWII (ethnic cleansing) and Christians in southern Sudan (religious persecution), the Karen people are being persecuted because they are Karenand many happen to be Christian. Their very own government is trying to wipe out the “inferior” race and attempting to suffocate the Christian church.
Imagine 50,000 refugees trying to live a “normal” life inside the confinements of a camp. Yes, the walls are meant to protect, but from the perspective of many living inside – they are seen as a prison sentence. It is rare to leave these confinements – years spent inside “your community.”
The day after we visited Myanmar, we were able to visit one of the refugee camps on the Thailand border. The camp has been established for around 17 years. People continue to come daily, and the camp has expanded now to three different zones to accommodate the influx of people. While inside the camp, the government only allowed us to visit the school.
I imagine that this camp initially started off as a temporary solution to an immediate need, but over the years has evolved into a living, breathing community. At least on the surface level people appear content: women washing clothes in the stream, kids playing by the water, students learning.
Yes, the Burmese (Myanmar people) are grateful for this place of refuge, but above all, their eyes are set on returning home. They want to grow up on their own land, farm their own land – feel like they belong. They are tired of receiving UN food rations; they are ready to “go fishing for themselves.”
Acute brain drain is another issue that, because of my American perspective, I totally overlooked. Replacement of Burmese refugees to the UK or America is draining Myanmar of the very individuals needed to restore their country. I guess we (America) like to accept those that show potential and will not be a drain to our economy – thus we eagerly receive those with an education and those that can make a life for themselves in America. But what happens to those in dire need: the widows, the handicapped, the orphaned? They remain in the refugee camp. I know that we are only trying to help, but a very real concern for many Burmese is that we are draining them of the very people that could turn their lives and country back around for the positive.
“We just need to go to the root of the problem and stop it there,” exclaimed Wado, a 31 year-old Burmese man who has been living in the camp for 15 years. “Go to the government. If we can somehow remove or change those in leadership positions, I believe everything else will talk care of itself. We will be able to go back home, and I will be able to see my family again.”
He believes in God. But the tone of his voice insinuates that time, frustrations and life have left him with more cries for help “unanswered” than “answered.”
For more on Burma and the displaced Karen people, check out: Wado
Stephanie Fisk spent last year traveling to the forty-eight contiguous states, doing servant ministry. She has a heart to call the least and the deserted to a great wedding feast. This year, she’s traveling the world and is finishing up her year-long pilgrimage in East Asia.