Category Archives: Refugees

The Harrowing Tale of a Refugee Mother Named Rahima, Part 4

And to conclude…read part one, part two and part three

Rahima came to Mae Sot when all hope was lost for a good life in Burma. Now, after being left by two husbands, she is a single mother of two and spends her days on the streets of Mae Sot collecting glass and plastic to sell for recycling.

“I don’t need a husband. I’ve had enough of all that. I’ve had two husbands already who divorced me because they couldn’t afford me or our children so they left. I am finished with all of that! I just live in a dream where someone will notice me and resettle me to a third country; somewhere my children can be educated and live a good life.”

“Sometimes I think we could find a better life in Bangkok or Malaysia. But then I look down at my children and think that if I can’t even provide them with food and medicine, how could I ever do something like that? Sometimes I think of giving them to an orphanage but I can’t because they are not Thai or Karen. I have no optimism left. I just live each day to survive.”

With the future looking so bleak for Rahima, and millions of other irregular migrants across Asia, it is hard to draw any positives. But as I leave Rahima, I make sure she knows how inspiring it is to see what people are capable of when it comes to the survival of their family. The strength between Rahima and her children that has kept them together against all odds is more impressive than anything most people could hope to achieve, anywhere in the world.

JJ Kim, Advocacy Manager

Worldwide Impact Now

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The Harrowing Tale of a Refugee Mother Named Rahima, Part 3

The story continues for Rahima, an Arakanese refugee mother in the border town of Mae Sot, Thailand…read part one and part two

In Burma, soldiers are given total power and often stationed far from home, creating what has been dubbed a “culture of impunity.” Without a strong community to support them, young girls living without homes are among the most vulnerable to abuse. Bad health is also rife on the streets of Burma. While less than 2% of government spending goes to health-care, around 40% is spent strengthening the military, further entrenching the regime’s stranglehold on the nation. Never in her life had Rahima seen a medic or doctor of any kind before she came to Thailand, despite being surrounded by illness.

“We had so many diseases, mainly diarrhea and stomach pains because we had no food. Sometimes we went collecting herbal leaves and boiled them down and drank the broth. That sometimes worked, but most people died. It’s all a blur now, but I’m sure my whole family are dead. My father had a brain stroke, and then my mother died of cancer. Me and my siblings were uncontrollable. We had no food so we came and went and often lost track of each other. One by one, my 8 brothers and sisters just stopped coming back.”

For almost an hour, without tears, Rahima tells me of her childhood, describing the railway station as “worse than anything [she’d] ever heard or learned about hell.” Meanwhile giving her utmost attention to her own two children, both close by her side. Throughout the interview the boy is so sick he has soiled the floor twice, unduly embarrassing his mother.

“My child has had diarrhea for over 20 days now but I have no money. The Thai police wait outside the free clinic [Mae Tao] and arrest foreigners every day. I tell them that we live in Burma and have just come for the clinic but they don’t care, they arrest us and take us to DKBA soldiers on the border.”

The final part of this series will be published in the coming days.

JJ Kim, Advocacy Manager

Worldwide Impact Now

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The Harrowing Tale of a Refugee Mother Named Rahima, Part 2

The story continues for Rahima, an Arakanese refugee mother in the border town of Mae Sot, Thailand… Read part one here

“After that we moved across the country to Moulmein [Mon State], Burma where we found some farmland and started over. But when I was ten, it happened again, some soldiers came and ordered us to leave at once. It was horrible, I remember it well, me and my eight brothers and sisters were crying and screaming, while my father was just frozen stiff and speechless.”

Rahima and I, along with her two children – a boy and a girl, both under five and with shaven heads – sit in a small communal home in Mae Sot’s run-down Muslim quarter. The girl wears a long brown vest that just covers her up, while the boy dons a baby’s dress, both covered in dirt. In the next room two older children are being taught English by a local volunteer, while people storm in and out speaking in rapid Bengali and Thai. 19-year-old Rahima, upright on a wooden chair, is wrapped in a once-beautiful but ragged sarong wearing large hoop earrings and her hair in a bun, holding the air of a mature woman.

Keen to talk she tells me of her family’s second move in 2000, this time to the streets of Mattayar near the ancient city of Mandalay. Soon after arrival, they were forced to take shelter in a railway station with around 50 other homeless families. It was then, at age ten, Rahima effectively became an adult, spending her days searching for food and work, or begging on the streets.

“We had no hut or shelter, we just slept in the main hall of the railway station. We got most of our food from begging and tried so hard to find work. Occasionally people gave us rice to do small jobs but most wouldn’t even look at us. We often went for two or three days without food, sometimes longer, and drank water from puddles and streams.”

When I ask about soldiers in Mattayar, Rahima lets out a long moan and shoots a piercing glance straight thorough me with her wide brown eyes. She takes a long pause and then, after breathing deep, begins to talk quietly drawing me in closer to listen carefully.

“It was horrible. They used to come all the time – to see what they could take. We had nothing, just a few rags and some cardboard. If we had food we ate it quickly but if they found any coins, they just took them. They beat the men and used to try and scare us. There was nowhere to go, no one would take us in or protect us. We were children running away from trained soldiers. We didn’t even try to run.”

Rahima becomes uneasy and I consider changing the subject. Then, looking at the ground for the first time, she speaks again, straining to get the words past her swollen throat.

“They would take all the pretty girls first. My elder sister was taken once for four or five days and then just dropped back one morning. She was different after that. It’s very shameful to talk about these things so when she came back she didn’t tell anyone what had happened, although we asked. In my time there, dozens of women were taken. Not one of them ever told of what had happened.”

JJ Kim, Advocacy Manager
Worldwide Impact Now

To be  continued…read part one here

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The Harrowing Tale of a Refugee Mother Named Rahima, Part 1

“Living in a daydream is the only we can get through this. If I focus like a human being and think about my existence then life is just not possible. I used to spend a lot of time thinking. I used to think, why was I born into this world just to beg from others who were born into my world? That’s how I still feel, which makes it difficult to continue trying to live.” -Rahima, a refugee mother escaped from Burma

It’s early evening in the transient town of Mae Sot, for many a gateway out of Burma to some kind of freedom; for others, another stepping stone along a path of oppression and poverty. Rahima stares at me with eyes full of life, strong but verging on tears. Fully composed she animates a story I’ll never forget; the becomings of a girl, who at younger than 20 years has suffered more than most will in a lifetime, an inspirationally strong mother of two.

“We had a very small house in my native village,” she says, recalling a small rural bamboo settlement in Arakan State, Western Burma. “I don’t remember much because I was younger than five. I just know that some soldiers came and we had to leave or we would have been killed.”

Across Burma, thousands of acres of civilian-owned land are confiscated by the Burmese Army every year, mainly for the development of military bases and infrastructure. Overnight, families lose their entire livelihoods and means for survival, without compensation or assistance, so the regime can keep a tighter fist on the population. In a country without the most basic civil liberties, these people are forced to adapt and start all over again, sometimes miles from their homes.

The story continues for Rahima, a refugee mother in the border town of Mae Sot, Thailand…Look for part two in the coming days.

JJ Kim, Advocacy Manager
Worldwide Impact Now

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US Policy Bodes Ill for Burmese Refugees

Following pressure from the US to crackdown on human trafficking, the Malaysian Immigration Department has decided to go after all employers of illegal migrants, tens of thousands of which are Burmese refugees.

photo by: Maggie Lemere

In the process,  it has been predicted that large numbers of migrants and refugees themselves will be arrested and held in detention camps, which are already horrifically overcrowded. Human rights abuse has become commonplace in these camps and unhygienic conditions have led to widespread disease and an average 18 deaths per month.

The crackdown began on Monday 15th February. Reporting for Thailand-based Democratic Voice of Burma, WIN’s Advocacy Manager, JJ Kim, brings the voices of oppressed groups in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to life, read his account here.

photo by: Maggie Lemere

WIN are following the raids in Malaysia very closely, for further information, contact us directly on worldwideimpactnow2010@gmail.com

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In Darkness, Karen Refugees Dread Forced Return to Burma

photo by: Alex Ellgee/ The Irrawaddy
After a sleepless night, families due to be repatriated gather before dawn to discuss their fate.

THA SONG YANG, Thailand (02/05/2010) — Last night, under the light of the stars, I guided myself through the paddy field toward the flickering flames on the top of the hill. Dashing across a dirt path, I narrowly miss a Thai security bike and arrive at the Noh Boe temporary refugee camp.

Immediately, I am whisked into a flimsy bamboo shelter to avoid the Thai soldiers, who the residents say are always circling the camp on patrol. Quickly, someone lights a candle—a precious commodity in a place with no electricity—and various residents tell me of their heartache.

“We can’t stay here but we don’t want to go back,” Saw Naing, a camp teacher, says quietly as we sit on his hut floor.

He explains that all the people in the camp are terrified to go back to Ler Per Her in Karen State because of the landmines that litter the area and the abuse they can expect to receive there from the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), an ally of the Burmese junta.

Read the full article with a photo slideshow via The Irrawaddy

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Internal Displacement Report: February 3 – 7, 2010

The first week of February saw further attacks on civilians in Karen State, Eastern Burma by the country’s ruling dictators. While over 2,000 men, women and children lost their homes, a local health clinic was burned to the ground and 11 schools abandoned due to force.

In order to destabilize communities and weaken support for local freedom fighters, the army often forcibly relocates villages, sending in mortars then heading in on foot to destroy what is left and kill any remaining villagers.

Between February 3-7, at least 46 houses and one clinic were burned to the ground in Toe Hta, while 38 homes were destroyed in Ka Di Mu Der, two areas of Kler Lwe Htoo (Nyaunglebin) District in northern Karen State. These attacks were perpetrated by Light Infantry Batallion (LIB) #362 and LIB #356 of the Burma Army.

Speaking to WIN in the days after, Saw Steve of the Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People (CIDKP) said that “the 2,000 people have fled deep into the jungle where they remain as the Burma Army are still active in the area. They are not close to any source of water and are sleeping in the wild.”

WIN recently received other reports that three Burma Army battalions have been moved into the region and are in combat with the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA). It is unlikely that the region will be safe for return within the week. A spokesperson for the Karen Department of Health and Welfare (KDHW), which administers the destroyed clinic, spoke to WIN of his deep concern for the displaced people’s lack of food and other materials.

“Firstly they need food, that is the number one thing and we encourage any support anyone can offer us or CIDKP in this regard. After that they need medicine, materials for shelter and then once they return they will need to start from scratch collecting utensils and pots and pans and other household things.”

The KDHW operate a mobile clinic service, which is adaptable to the constant need to flee settlements and start over.

“The mobile clinic concept means that if the villagers are forced to move location because of attack, our health workers will always move with them. In the same way, if upon return they decide that it is not safe to stay – usually due to landmine cultivation – the health workers move with them to the new site.”

These reports came shortly after a local trader was murdered on the Salween River that borders Thailand and Burma. Saw Law Ray Htoo was shot by Burma Army soldiers while traveling downstream by boat on February 5.

WIN has also received reports that the 2,000 or more IDPs displaced in similar attacks between January 17 and 19, remain in hiding in the jungle, many also in Kler Lwe Hto District.

Kim, on the border
Worldwide Impact Now

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