Take A Walk Through The

Mae La Refugee Camp​

​​​​​​​Sources and Resorces 


Burma (Myanmer)



Democratic Republic​ of Congo 

​El Salvador






Video Resources

Report on Karen (Burmese/Myanmer Refugees)

Refugees From Burma (Karen)

Ethnic Percentages of Population in Burma

• Burman 68%

• Shan 9%

• Karen 7%

• Rakine 3.5%

• Chinese 2%

• Mon 1.5%

• Other 6.5%​​

​​​​​​​Refugee Migrant Populations

Documentary on Burmese/Myanmar Refugees



Cultural Orientation Resources 


Etheno Med


​​​Oxford Burma Alliance 

​Ward, J. (2002). If Not Now, When? Addressing Gender-based Violence in Refugee, Internally Displaced and Post-conflict Settings. A Global Overview. 2002 The Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children and the International Rescue Committee.

​​​​Refugees From Burma (Myanmar) 

“Rather than being known for its diverse ethnic history and rich natural resources, Burma is distinct as the setting of one of the longest-running civil wars in the world.” (Ward, 2002)


  • Refugees Fleeing from Burma - 700,000 
  • Resettled In United States - 75,000 (2018, UNCHR)
  • 700,000 minority groups, including the Karen, are fleeing to neighbouring countries
  • Over 3,000 villages burnt down, leaving 500,000 villagers hiding in the hills
  • Burmese Army persecutes minority tribes, regardless of whether they are rebels or just peaceful villagers.
  • Many cases of rape, massacres and ethnic genocide
  • As of 2018, there are 120,000 refugees in 9 refugee camps in Thailand alone, with many having been there for more than 20 years.

​Recent history

  • Burmans arrive 800s AD
  • Around 1000 AD Burma became a significant Kingdom
  • British rule since 1886 
  • Japanese occupation during WW2
  • At end of WW2, returned to British rule
  • Burma granted independence in 1948
  • 1962 – coup d’etat
  • Military dictatorship, followed by military regime
  • 2011 – signs of political reform

Ethnic Groups

There are more than 135 different ethnic groups in Burma, each with its own history, culture and language. The majority Burman (Bamar) ethnic group makes up about two-thirds of the population and controls the military and the government. The minority ethnic nationalities, including the Chin, Kachin, Karenni, Karen and Rakhin, make up one-third of the population and live mainly in the resource-rich border areas and hills of Burma, although many have been forcibly removed from their homes by the military-backed government as it confiscates land for development projects and resource exploitation. As a result, millions of people from these minority groups have become internally displaced people (IDPs) within Burma, or refugees in neighbouring countries.

Historical Background
Burma was annexed as a province of British India in 1886.  In 1938 they received their independence, however, internal conflict between different ethnic factions has remained constant. The ruling military junta changed its name from Myanmar to Burma in 1989.  Many countries and the U.N. do not recognize the change in name. 

After a quarter century of economic hardship and repression under military rule, the Burmese people held massive demonstrations that were quickly and brutally dispersed by the regime. Democracy activists were targeted for repression, and thousands of students, intellectuals, and elected politicians were forced to flee the country. Many headed for the rugged jungles on the Thai-Burmese border, where they experienced malaria, wild animals, hunger, and fevers, and encountered other militia groups.

The Karen Culture

​Farming - Traditionally, most Karen people are farmers who cultivate “hill rice”. They live in villages that are small clearings in the forest. Houses are made entirely of bamboo and thatch. A nearby stream or river may provide a place for villagers to bathe, do washing, and collect drinking water. Life follows a seasonal pattern of planting and harvesting rice.

Religious Life - The Karen have five known religious beliefs: Animism, Buddhism, Christianity, the Lehkai, and Telahkon. Of these five, the majority of the Karen are Animist, Buddhist, or Christian. Christian Karen make up the leadership of the resistance to the Burmese. There has been some religious tension between the Christian and the Buddhist Karen. A Buddhist faction broke with the Christian leadership and aligned with the Burmese military.

Naming - The Karen are addressed by given names. Traditionally, they do not have family names. This causes confusion with the system in the United States that identifies people by last names and may switch the order of the names on documents (you may find your patient by a search for their “first” name). Married couples do not share a same name. Usually Karen names mean something.

Displays of Respect - When you are walking by someone, you duck and bow your head to be lower than others in the room especially if you are walking between two people having a conversation. One should avoid walking in front of those who are seated. One should walk behind them or ask for permission first.

  • Direct eye contact is sometimes not considered polite as it is a sign of equal status.
  • Normally Karen walk behind those who are elders or senior to them.
  • Folding one's arms in front of oneself when talking to another is a sign of respect unlike in American culture
  • Pointing with the feet or showing the bottoms of one's feet and touching the head is disrespectful.
  • One does not pick up something belonging to another person. When handing something to someone, it is respectful to use two hands rather than one.
  • One refuses invitations to eat with each other first as a manner of respect, and then accepts modestly.
  • Saying “no” is often a way of being modest.


As of March 2017, over 102,000 refugees from Myanmar were living in nine camps in Thailand close to the border with Myanmar, according to UNHCR statistics. Of this number:

  • 83 per cent are ethnic Karen
  • 10 per cent are Karenni, and
  • 7 percent are Burman, Mon or of another ethnicity.

Many refugees have lived in the camps for decades awaiting a durable protection solution, after escaping conflict in southeast Myanmar. Funding for the camps has dried up in recent years, with international aid donors shifting their focus to projects inside Myanmar since political and economic reforms began in 2011.

The Chin and Karen together make up one of the largest populations of refugees being resettled into the United States.  In 2014, the UNHCR program in Thailand to resettle refugees from Burma, began to close, proposed number coming into the United States will begin to lower.