March 18, 2008 12:20 PM
THE THAILAND ODYSSEY
Burmese refugees fill refugee centers along the Burma/Thai border. Tired and hungry, they soon discover there is no food or supplies according to Karen Relief officials. The injured, though lucky to be alive, ponder their fate while the lack of medical attention takes its human toll. With a new Thai government taking control the refugees as well as migrant workers, approximately 1 million or so, fear for an unknown future.
Animosities between Burma and Thailand as well as cultural differences have widened the gap that separates them. All aspects of life are affected as Burmese are grossly underpaid. Registered migrants have equal rights under Thai Law. This is largely ignored since Burmese are systematically denied educational opportunities, health care and other basic societal comforts. Many provinces have also imposed curfews. Some provinces have forbidden immigrants from owning cell phones.
Unregistered workers are the majority of the workforce though. Working long hours with no protection from the law, sweat shops team with nothing short of slave labor. They are paid a third of the minimum wage at best while lining the pockets of unscrupulous businessmen. Two and three families will live in dwellings designed for 2 people in an effort to survive in this new and foreign world. Life is very trying for these immigrants at best. But they are thankful for the safety Thailand offers them.
So they live and work in squalid conditions, treated like second class citizens and endure more ethnic hatred and distain. At least they were not returned to Burma to face death or imprisonment. Sadly corrupt Thai officials have hampered the registration process for refugee applicants in an effort to keep wages low for industries sake. With the appointment of Noppadon Pattama as Thailands new foreign minister the Burmese refugee’s fears are not so unfounded since he seems to cater to Junta officials. The possibilityof a Burma Friendly policy is very real and is the subject of many conversations. Their only hope is that Pattama’s actions are a sign of diplomatic prowess and not an early sign of bias. Their fate is in the balance and time willonly tell.
Thailand’s newly elected government has postured themselves to honor and respect Burma’s sovereignty. The issues of democracy, human rights and wholesale murder of human beings were relegated to “Domestic Issues”. Foreign Minister Noppadon was quoted as saying; “We are not a headmaster who can tell Burma to do this or that”
From the jungle refugee camps to the slums of Bangkok, Burmese refugees are fearful of their future. With the new government flexing it’s new wings and making plans for the countries future. The place once thought to be a new beginning may very well become the beginning of the end.
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