He’s been running since he was four years old. “Could you actually hear the army coming?” I asked. “Oh yes, you could hear them. They come. They take everything. They shot my uncle and my brother. Three of my uncles have been killed. One of my uncles is a porter.” “You mean a slave?” “Yes, he is a slave.”
In his thirties, married with children, and one of the best people I know here, Thur is persecuted for no reason apart from his race. As we drove our 2 hour journey in the back of a pickup we travelled parallel to the river that separated Thur and his homeland in Burma. I watched him as he looked at what once was. I asked him where home was. He motioned with his head across the river and then said, “Home is not here.”
We spoke about many things. I told him how when Burma (Myanmar) comes up in the news it’s never about the Karen persecution. It is about their own internal conflict and politics. I saw anger and disappointment in his face, at the very least people around the world should know. We talked about some Karen people getting refugee status overseas. I heard of a family that went to the US. The father cried everyday he was there as he longed for the mountains. He spoke of others. Never was there a picture of estatic happiness that someone got a “ticket out”. It isn’t without extreme compromise for a “taste” of freedom. We think we do them a favour by letting them come into our country. We do, but we don’t understand completely and never will. This place is beautiful. The mountains are among the most spectacular I’ve ever seen. There is water in abundance. The foliage is lush and green. There is community here. Their way of life is so different I could barely hope that any of them would ever get a ticket out and face the ways of the western world.
They should be on their land, without fear of persecution.
Thur is one Karen out of thousands who shared a brief part of his story. The Karen people are one ethnic minority out of many in the world who are or have been persecuted. Why?
We stopped by the Karen refugee camp to pick up some students we dropped off earlier that day. As we waited I was able to have a closer look at a home on the edge of the camp. From a distance the camp with thousands of bamboo huts decorating the hillside looks picturesque and stunning. It’s a deceiving view. I looked at a lady lying on the floor of her hut. The home was surround by rubbish. The bamboo walls, floors and pillars were rotting. Everything was dirty and damp. That was her constant reality.
There are people who have spent decades in the camp. People have been born there and know nothing else. There are three checkpoints on the road with military guards we pass each time we drive into town. These checkpoints are to check for the Karen people. Any passing without papers are arrested.
For the rest of the journey home Thur sat quietly. If I could do something about this injustice I would. But who am I? Even though I live in a western, developed country if my thoughts and concerns can’t have a podium what freedom of speech do I really have if no one in power will listen and take action?
So you are reading this and word may be spreading, but please don’t confuse being informed with action. Talk is cheap, but yes, the starting point. We could all know about the Karen persecution and still what success is there until the nation exists in peace? Until there is no worry of land mines, village raids or being ambushed while you sleep with your children at night. With my inability to do anything to help I’m left feeling empty and frustrated. This note doesn’t end on a positive note at all. I hope for a better solution, but not being Karen I am so far removed from the reality of their situation it’s hard to comprehend and far easier to divert my thoughts.
A quote that a friend shared recently… “I saw the horror of the Rwandan crisis on tv. It was so unspeakable in its scope and sadness that I knew as a human being that I had to take action. So I switched channels.”
Quoted in ‘Symposium on Mission and social action’ 1997
I’m left not knowing how to end this letter. I have no words of clarity or sufficient direction. This is what it is; a very small glimpse at a people who are confined, who are forced to live on handouts with lost dignity, who live without freedom.
I’m officially the most inconsistent blogger in the world. Mark and I are volunteering in Thailand, helping at a Karen children’s home. I hope to post more. We shall see how time permits!