06/19/2008, 00.00
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Burmese in Thailand, refugees of the "longest civil war in the world"

On the eve of World Refugee Day, on June 20, an account of the "forgotten" stories from the refugee camps in Mae La, on the Thai border. Here thousands of Burmese have fled from the ferocious war between the government and ethnic minorities.

Mae Sot (AsiaNews) - There are nine refugee camps along the western border between Thailand and Myanmar, but with its 43,000 "guests", the one in Mae La is by far the largest.  This area north of Mae Sot receives the Burmese who are fleeing from what many analysts call "the longest civil war underway in the world": the war between the military junta and the Karen ethnic minority, but also the Mon and Shan. 

In a recent report from the spot, CNN gathers the testimonies of some of the refugees.  "I came to the camp 10 years ago", says a young mother, "after the army burned our village and took our rice".  The stories told by these people, most of them Buddhists and Christians, are all similar: bloody attacks by the Burmese army, forced labour, destruction of homes and crops, enslavement.

The refugee camps are run by the Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC), a union of 11 international NGOs, which provides food, shelter, and health care.  According to the director of the TBBC, Jack Dunford, what is happening to these people is now nothing more than a "forgotten story" for the international community.  The cyclone Nargis - which between June 2 and 3 killed and displaced more than 130,000 people in southern Myanmar - has raised fears of a massive new migratory movement towards these camps on the border.  But Saay Tae Tae, coordinator of the Karen Refugees Committee, is convinced that the eventual "flood" of refugees will be slow, and will take months to develop.  It is very difficult for the Burmese to arrive here:  "Travel is very restricted by the army, and the people have no money to pay for transport", Saay explains.

The camp in Mae La has been operating for 25 years. In 1997, it was attacked by the Burmese army, but since then it has been left alone, although the tension rises during the dry season, when - witnesses tell the TBBC - the military prefers to conduct its operations.

Although they have escaped from the imminent danger of war, the Burmese refugees continue to face numerous problems: unemployment for adults and young people, education for children, health care and the general difficulty of creating a new life, looking to the future.

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See also
Nargis refugees exploited to rebuild entire areas of Burma
Caritas Thailand sending first aid shipment to Nargis victims
Burmese junta: international plots "worse than the cyclone"
Ban Ki-moon will not see Burma’s real catastrophe
People of Burma call for democracy and religious freedom


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