‘Why do I have the privilege of basic human rights when others do not?’: Refugee Camps on the Thai-Burma Border.

‘Why do I have the privilege of basic human rights when others do not?’: Refugee Camps on the Thai-Burma Border.

By Roger O’Halloran

Today Father Reynaldo took Christine and me to visit the Nu Po refugee camp just outside Umphang, Thailand, close to the border with Myanmar. Over 10,000 people, mostly belonging to the Karen ethnic minority, live in this temporary shelter arrangement. It’s a place that makes you ask ‘Could I adapt to such a situation?’ and leaves one wondering why I have the privilege of basic human rights (plus so much more) when others do not.

Father Reynaldo is a Xaverian priest from Indonesia. He has no church building. His church is in the relationships with local people, particularly those from the camps. He takes relationship-building seriously. He’s fluent in at least five languages:  Bahasa Indonesian, English, Thai, Karen and French. The French comes from building relationships in a previous placement in Cameroon. 

Last night I saw him in action: teaching English to three young Mon women and three Karen women. This is the way in which he builds relationships, especially with the marginalised of the community. He has asked for Palms help.

Three Mon and three Karen women learning English in Umphang, Thailand.

Palms Programs and Placements Coordinator, Christine, is making this visit to scope assignments prior to placing Liz O’Sullivan to work with Fr Reynaldo in 2020. Liz is currently a primary teacher in Bundaberg, Queensland. She will take over some of Fr. Reynald’s English classes and assist in building the skills of English Teachers in government schools around Umphang.

In exchange for his teaching services Reynaldo has managed to have some of the students from the camps attend the Thai schools. This will ultimately provide them a future beyond camp life. 

In the camp today I was asked by a man who introduced himself as “D” to make enquiries in Australia about seeking asylum. He added: “If you cannot, please do not disturb us”. Too many promises have been made in the past I suspect. In due course, Liz will be introduced to the families in the camps and hopefully bring more details of their plight, and D’s request for advocacy assistance, to our attention.

I’m asking if one of your gifts this Christmas can be directed to cover the cost of Liz’s placement. You can donate here.