Refugees on the Thai bor­der com­mem­o­rate king’s pass­ing

The Myanmar Times - - News - CA­ROLE OUDOT MATTHIEU BAUDEY news­room@mm­

AS Thai ci­ti­zens mourn the pass­ing of King Bhu­mi­bol Adulyadej, Karenni refugees at the Ban Mai Nai Soi camp held their own com­mem­o­ra­tive event last week, honour­ing the monarch who had of­fered them shel­ter when they fled their war-torn home­land.

In­side the Mae Hong Son prov­ince camp, which was opened by Thai au­thor­i­ties two decades ago, around 2000 refugees gath­ered on Oc­to­ber 20 to ex­press their con­do­lences.

The iso­lated camp is home to some 14,000 refugees, most of whom are eth­nic Karen­nis who fled their homes in ad­ja­cent eastern Kayah State dur­ing fight­ing be­tween the Tat­madaw and the Karenni Na­tional Pro­gres­sive Party (KNPP) in the early 1990s.

De­spite their re­mote lo­ca­tion, and only in­ter­mit­tent ac­cess to those out­side the camp, the camp was struck with nearly unan­i­mous grief at the news of the king’s pass­ing.

“It is not easy for us to be aware of all of what is hap­pen­ing. There’s no TV and not so much con­tact with the out­side world, but [when we learned of the king’s death] we were sad,” Ko Luiz, a sec­re­tary from the Karenni Refugee Com­mit­tee, told The Myan­mar Times.

In the heat of the af­ter­noon, around 500 stu­dents bear­ing por­traits of the king gath­ered at the stage as­sem­bled in a large open space.

Amid the mas­sive crowd dressed in black, cam­eras from Thai TV chan­nels could be spot­ted. Thai mil­i­tary of­fi­cers from the Mae Hong Son prov­ince were also in at­ten­dance, ap­pear­ing to ap­prove of the events.

“We feel very sad too,” said Peter Paul, 21, a stu­dent at the camp. “He had the kind­ness to al­low us to stay here.”

While King Bhu­mi­bol was per­ceived as be­ing em­pa­thetic to the plight of the Myan­mar refugees along the Thai bor­der, many fear their sit­u­a­tion has now gained a re­newed pre­car­i­ous­ness. Thai au­thor­i­ties have yet to ad­dress the sta­tus of refugees, or if there will be any change of pol­icy.

“The king showed us love, care and un­der­stand­ing. But now, we are a bit wor­ried about what is go­ing to hap­pen next for the refugees,” said Ko Luiz.

Af­ter speeches by the Thai au­thor­i­ties, the Karenni Refugee Com­mit­tee pre­sented their con­do­lences to the Thai peo­ple on be­half of the res­i­dents of the camp and ex­pressed their grat­i­tude to­ward the late king.

“His Majesty was a re­mark­able king who ded­i­cated his en­tire life’s lead­er­ship to ser­vice and love for the peo­ple of Thai­land. His kind-heart­ed­ness en­abled the grant­ing of asy­lum to the eth­nic peo­ple who fled civil war in Karenni Refugee Com­mit­tee Burma and al­lowed us to tem­po­rar­ily stay, and seek pro­tec­tion and se­cu­rity in the King­dom of Thai­land,” said Mahn Saw, chair of the Karenni Refugee Com­mit­tee.

The cer­e­mony at Ban Mai Nai Soi fol­lowed mes­sages of con­do­lences and events held by the Karenni Na­tional Pro­gres­sive Party and the Karen Na­tional Union at their re­spec­tive head­quar­ters along the Thai bor­der.

The Ban Mai Nai Soi cer­e­mony ended with can­dle light­ing and prayers. Bud­dhist prayers for the king were fol­lowed by Catholic and Bap­tist prayers and songs.

Myan­mar has an­nounced plans to repa­tri­ate refugees along the bor­der with Thai­land af­ter bi­lat­eral talks. The vol­un­tary re­turns to eight states and re­gions are ex­pected to start tak­ing place next week. Refugee camp com­mit­tees say in­fra­struc­ture in Kayah State is still in­suf­fi­cient to sup­port the repa­tri­a­tions, and many fear land­mines, but funds from in­ter­na­tional donors have in­creas­ingly dried up as Myan­mar be­gan to lib­er­alise in 2011.

‘[The king’s] kind­heart­ed­ness en­abled the grant­ing of asy­lum to the eth­nic peo­ple who fled civil war in Burma.’

Mahn Saw

Photo: Sup­plied

Refugees at the Ban Mai Nai Soi camp on the Thai bor­der com­mem­o­rate the late Thai king.

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