Take A Walk Through The
Mae La Refugee Camp
Sources and Resorces
Democratic Republic of Congo
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
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)
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.
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.
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:
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.