On the way to KKBBSC the road passes other parts of the camp, at one point three large buses were loading. Dr Simon explained that several times each week the people being “resettled to a third country” – those leaving the camp, and Thailand, for new homes in the USA, Canada, Australia and other places including Northern Europe and NZ – are bused from the camp to the airport. After years of obscurity the situation of the Karen people in Myanmar has finally produced a response from Western governments. These governments cannot, or will not, influence the military who rule, so they offer visas and the chance of a new life overseas.
Prior to boarding the busses, and saying (a final?) goodbye to friends and family, the resettlers are given short courses in vital life skills (3-5 days!). These include finding and using airplane toilets (rather different from the Turkish squat toilets they are used to) and finding their way in airports (very important especially for those whose English is less than really good).
Later in the evening, sitting cradling a thin cat while chatting with a Dutch journalist, Dr Simon expressed his mixed feelings about resettlement. Some people are getting much greater chances of a decent life, and a fuller education than he and others can provide in the camp. Yet they are effectively saying goodbye not only to family and friends, but also to hopes of one day returning to live at home. A new diaspora is added to the world’s list of displaced peoples. This diaspora includes (inevitably?) a high proportion of those who are best educated, the leaders and those with initiative, this impoverishes the community that remains. Dr Simon and his own family have remained for eighteen years, building community and teaching English, Theology and life skills.
Many Karen in Thailand do not live in the camps, but as illegals in Thai cities, working for a pittance and in fear of being “caught” and “repatriated” to Myanmar. The journalist also told us the almost unbelievable, yet all too true story of the people of the rubbish tip. Karen, fed up with working in Myanmar for wages that will not feed a family, who escape to the rubbish tip in the city. There they live, and rushing to catch the fresh waste as the Thai lorries deliver it and extract anything of value. Soft plastic baled at a Bhat or two a kilo (there are roughly 20Bhat to US$1, 25 to NZ$1) and other raw materials are mined in this extreme form of recycling. The rubbish dump people number about 2-300 and include both adults and children. This life is better than Myanmar for these Karen, who are not of the same race as the military rulers.
The rubbish tip miners use curved machetes to hack into the sacks and reveal their “treasures”. One day one man hit something in a sack that exploded. He and a dozen others were injured. From the hospital they were taken back to the border – repatriation seems such a gentle word for such a process.