New Directions

New Directions

Working with refugees on the Thai/Burma border

Palms Australia has recently placed Frank Morgan, an experienced teacher and “repeat” Palms volunteer, to work with the Australian Catholic University (ACU) Refugee Program on the Thai/Burma border. Providing training in a refugee camp setting is a new direction for Palms, although one which fits entirely with Palms’ vision and mission for sustainable development.

There are currently 14 million refugees in the world. This number does not include people who have fled for environmental and economic reasons or people who are displaced within their own country, Internally Displaced Persons or IDPs. The total number of displaced persons worldwide is closer to 40 million.

Refugees are people who cannot return to their own country for fear of persecution. This means that in addition to facing challenges in accessing health and education and other rights, they do not even have the security of a home or a homeland which will provide protection.

There are over 360,000 Burmese refugees in Thailand alone and many more in other countries. Over one third of these refugees are restricted to refugee camps near the border of Burma. Some have been there for over 20 years.

The majority of refugees simply wish to return home without fear of persecution. Alternative “durable solutions” are integrating into their host country (in this case, Thailand) or being resettled to a third country, such as Australia. Given the continued rule by the junta in Burma, the political realities in Thailand relating to refugees and the small number of resettlement places available annually[1], for most people these solutions seem unlikely.

Given the protracted nature of the Burmese conflict and the lack of services and infrastructure available to refugees, it is easy to see that people in these situations could potentially benefit from development assistance at least as much as our other partner communities.

Recognising the challenges facing such communities, including a lack of skills and the “brain drain” resulting from resettlement countries giving preference to educated refugees, ACU offered an online Diploma in Liberal Studies to refugees in the camps. Students complete subjects in business, technology, communication, leadership, anthropology, human rights, sociology and politics. With this education, the students will be better equipped to improve the lives of their communities.

Acknowledging the difficulties of distance education, particularly in a cross-cultural and remote context, ACU sought a volunteer tutor from Palms to liaise between teachers and students and assist students with their English and study skills. Palms Australia is, of course, very happy to support Frank Morgan in this role. We are glad to continue our partnership with ACU and look forward to providing our readers with updates of this programs’ progress.

[1] Australia’s resettlement program offers about 13,000 places per year and is one of the world’s largest. However Australia receives very few refugees and asylum seekers compared to countries sharing land borders.