“The signal to flee was a banging on the bamboo. When you heard that, you didn’t feel, you didn’t think. You grabbed some food, some plates, and you ran.”
-Naw K’Nyaw Paw, secretary of the Karen Women’s Organisation, recalling a time in her childhood when the camp in which she lived in Thailand came under periodic attack from Burma/Myanmar.
Thailand has hosted refugees from Burma/Myanmar for more than three decades.
The current nine main camps that are home to around 98,000 people are a result of consolidations over the years of many smaller settlements along the 2,400-kilometre border line.
Some former camps were moved for administrative reasons, while other consolidations were as a result of periodic attacks from across the border.
Throughout their long period of forced displacement and uncertainty, the refugees in Thailand have been responsible for much of the day-to-day administration of the camps, which they have forged into communities that allow residents dignity and agency, despite many limitations and constrictions.
The first refugees in Thailand thought they would soon return home. As the years and the conflicts in Burma/Myanmar dragged on, some people chose to take the option of resettlement, seen by many as a way to ensure that their children would have a more promising future.
Between 2006 and September 2017, a total of 109,402 refugees from the camps have been resettled in third countries.
By far the greatest number have gone to the United States, while other countries that have offered a welcome to the refugees include Australia, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
Many more refugees have continued to hope for a time when they can return to their home places under conditions of dignity, safety and a durable peace.