We visited another refugee camp this week called Mae Ra Moe. It’s about seven hours north of Mae Sot.
It prompted thoughts.
Upon first look, a refugee camp doesn’t seem so bad. That sounds horrible at first, I know, but it’s true. You can look at a refugee camp and look at surrounding villages, and it doesn’t seem so different. They have homes, made out of bamboo and similar to what they’d have within their own country. They have food, they have schools, they have community. And for our western minds, it even looks a little dreamy. There’s an adventure appeal to the bamboo huts with leaved roofs set against a breathtaking backdrop. There’s even a beautiful simplicity to a life where you can walk to gather vegetables or visit a local market. You start your own fire to cook rice and bathe in a nearby river. It’s simple. It’s natural. And to our “developed”, concrete-filled, use-your-car-everyday lives, it’s refreshing.
But if you look deeper, it’s actually horrifying. It is simplicity, but by force. It’s being unable to move forward. It’s being unable to work and earn a living. It’s being unable to leave–to visit family, to move, to see other places. It’s life within a few square kilometers. It’s not making choices, but taking what you’ve been handed forcefully.
As we walked around this refugee camp this week, I saw a sign hanging throughout the camp, posted by the TBBC who provide all of the basic needs to all the camps along the Thai-Burma border (food, bamboo, leaves, clothes, etc.). It reads, in three languages (English, Karen, Burmese):
Please be reminded that unless your name is on the authorized exemption list with the Section Leader,all persons 18 years old and above are required to present yourself at the distribution point with your ration book and UN registration in order to receive your rations. People without UN registration must be verified by TBBC staff with official TBBC photos inside the ration book. No attendance = no rations.
For some reason, this sign brought it all home. I think it’s the word “rations.”
Suddenly, this refugee camp becomes a prison.