Category Archives: border

Karen News reports that a fire has devastated the KKBBSC buildings

Photo of the fire from the Karen News website

A fire has destroyed a bible school and other buildings in Mae La Refugee Camp, 57km north of the Thai town of Mae Sot at 12.30pm today. Camp residents managed to put out the fire after about an hour.

A camp resident whom witnessed the fire explained to Karen News that the fire destroyed several buildings in the Kawthoolei Karen Baptist Bible School and College (KKBBSC) compound located in Zone C.1A of Mae La refugee camp.

“The fire started in the food storage building. Now many buildings including the school, food storage, library, teachers’ houses and other buildings were destroyed by the fire.”

Child labour?

The teens and their vege patches

The question of when child labour is a traditional form of community self-help has come up a couple of times for me recently.

The example nearer home came from a friend of ours working on the border in a village that runs dormitories and a school for teens and kids who otherwise would miss out (falling between two countries systems, an ongoing war and just plain remoteness). She writes(with a few identifying details changed)  of a new project at the village, a vege garden:

As I have watched the transformation of scrubland into well ordered farm, a conundrum has arisen in my mind. My Western Social Work self asks if this is a form of abuse and exploitation of a captive youth labour force compelled to do whatever their elders “ask” of them. As one new 18 year old student assertively told the Principal, “I have never had to get out of bed at 5.30 a.m. and have never had to work like this in all my life. I came here to study  so I can go to university”. Then my K’nyaw wah (white Karen) self sees one boy playing guitar and singing alongside of other boys who are splitting bamboo stakes 1, and I see the bwadawar (community) at work and it all seems perfectly normal – a  community that sows together, reaps together, producing nutritious food,  developing new skills and combating the passive donor aid mentality that so permeates the border – just one of many casualties of this 62 year old war.

Please share with me your thoughts – I would appreciate some dialogue on this.

My “take” is simple:

  • if the labour is for the children’s benefit, as in this case since they will eat the results instead of eating a more minimal diet
  • if no one but the children is profiting from the work, as in this case since the food is grown as food not for sale
  • if the children learn and grow themselves – as in this case for growing (even a little of) your own food is rewarding and builds a sense of one’s own worth as well as practicing skills of collaboration and dependability

then it is not child labour but community development.

The first example came up in a discussion on Fair Trade chocolate and the accusations of slavery in the Ivory Coast. David Ker pointed me to a post by a friend of his (a link which I have somehow lost 😦 The friend had spent time working in Ivory Coast and argued that (at least) many of the cases of supposed child labour there were the common African phenomenon of children being sent to live with relatives for their schooling, and while there helping out the family with family work.

On the whole the case he described, which fits with what we knew in Zaire/Congo, is similar to the case above, with the added benefit that the adults involved are relatives, but the complication that it is a cash crop being grown.

(On the general case of Ivory Coast I am not convinced, there are what seem to be well-documented reports from reputable organisations, e.g. the US State Department, that claim regular trafficking of children for work in cocoa plantations.)

What do you think? How would you answer my friend?

Thai Governor’s remarks out of touch with reality

There has been heavy fighting just across this peaceful river in recent weeks.

Several sources have been reporting remarks made recently by the Thai Governor of Tak province (where most of the Burmese refugees in Thailand are) these all refer to a report on Alert Net: Thailand wants Myanmar asylum seekers to go home – official

The headline is a touch misleading, since it has always been Thai policy that the refugees return home once there is no fighting and their homes are safe. The refugees wait for that day too. What is new and involves a flagrant disregard for the truth is the claim that the elections in Burma have ended the fighting and removed the need for the refugees to remain. In view of the shelling, mortar fire and repeated gunfire (heard in Mae Sot as well as in smaller Thai towns close to the border) this claim either betrays a total disconnect from reality, or a blatant lie by Govenor Loifah.

Loifah said Myanmar was no longer violent and “we should start considering asking them to return voluntarily”.

But the United Nations’ refugee agency UNHCR said voluntary returns should only happen if there was no longer any fighting and refugees could sign papers saying they wanted to go back.

“That means Myanmar would have to be welcoming them home and guaranteeing their rights when they go home. UNHCR would need to be able to monitor their safety when they go home. It’s fairly clear that none of these conditions exist right now in the areas these refugees come from,” said UNHCR spokeswoman Kitty McKinsey.

Loifah said he would be happy to work with the European Union and the UNHCR if they started reducing spending on assistance to the camps to persuade residents to leave.

“Ideally, the province would like to be able to set a deadline for closing these camps but realistically, it’s hard to do so because of international organisations. So it’s likely to drag on,” he added.

Close the bridge, pressure the refugees

Unofficial travellers under the Freindship Bridge at Mae Sot (photo by jackol)

The last two paragraphs of a DVB article explain the closure of the “Friendship Bridge” according to the Thai govenor of Tak Province:


Thailand’s Foreign Trade Department estimated in October last year that around $US3 million was being lost each day due to the closure of the bridge, the main land-crossing between the two countries. In 2009 trade through Mae Sot was worth about $US860 million, nearly a quarter of the total annual bilateral trade.

Perhaps as a result of the bridge’s closure, as well as attempts by Thailand to curry favour with the junta in return for winning lucrative investment contracts, Thai policy toward refugees has become stricter, and some 10,000 Karen who fled earlier this year have been forced to find shelter in makeshift camps along the river, with little access to food and healthcare.

Meanwhile the military on both sides of the river profit, more bribes. Big ones for the important soldiers, who can help with smuggling the significant loads, small ones for the average grunt, but a nice addition to the family budget. The bridge could stay closed as long as the two governments are controled by the military.

Teaching Initiative for Refugees and Migrants around Mae Sot

The Burma Education Program are looking for teachers.

In 2011-2012 BEP will provide a Training Award for migrant teachers to include for the first time an accredited certificate. In the refugee community BEP will continue with materials development to provide EL curriculum materials for all primary schools in the refugee camps along the border. In support of this programme, BEP will provide a Mobile Unit offering professional training to the refugee teachers.

They need people with British or Irish citizenship plus a degree and ELT certificate. If this is you or someone you know do look at the job description.


There is an excellent post “Why are there Burmese refugees? Part II: Letter from a student” that describes life in Burma under the military and explains why som eone might prefer to live the restricted life of a refugee camp.

Fighting on Thai Burma border intensifies