The waiting

30. Nov 2010

Ang San Suu Kyi was released. And there was an election. And that’s about as concrete as this post is going to get – of course there are more to be said, but as is always the case with Burma and her elusive leadership, there are no answers to be found in Rangoon.

As always, details are sketchy, indecipherable and insufficient and what is really the situation for the average Burmese citizen is unclear. Getting more concrete than just stating the two above things is not an easy task.

The best way to get answers is to piece tidbits together yourself. Here is one:

On the Thai side of the border between Burma and Thailand there are several refugee camps and they have been there for decades. A majority of the people living in those camps are the ethnic Karen, who has rebelled against the Burmese leadership since the 70s. They came in 1984, when the Burmese military launched a major offensive and around 10,000 people were driven out of Burma and into Thailand. There was never a clear resolution to that conflict and thus, the refugees remained in Thailand.

By 1995, the camps had grown into housing around 115,000 people and because of the student uprising in 1988 that landed Ang San Suu Kyi under house arrest, the camps were not only populated by Karen, but now also by political refugees.

The junta had by then taken control of the border areas and clashes were not uncommon. The military started a process of carrying out an extensive relocation plan which affected around half a million people – in 2007, hundreds of thousands were unaccounted for, having fled to unknown whereabouts, and the population in the camps were now about 150,000.

So the fact that the recent election on Nov 7 resulted in fighting between Burmese military and Karen-rebels in that area is not surprising. Just weeks before the election Thai authorities had made it clear that it was their intention to return the refugees after the election, but – again – no clear plan was articulated and it was not certain how the refugees would be received once they got back. Later on, the Thai Foreign Minister declared that Thailand was NOT going to start repatriating the refugees immediately after the election, but rather when Thai authorities deem Burma safe for them to return to.

No wonder people reacted. When the election came, the Burmese soldiers came with it and people ran.  

They were caught in between the Thai soldiers on one side whose orders were to get them to run the other way and the Burmese military on the other side, whose orders no one has any clear idea of. That explains the contradictory reports that came out of the area just after the election where people were first running from and then returning to Burma.

Today, the situation has stabilized again, which is a nastily neutral way of saying that the refugees are back in the camps – there is nothing stable about living in a refugee camp, not even if that camp has been there for decades.

 What the future holds for them is impossible to foresee as the information coming from both Thailand and Burma is wildly changing every few days. So they sit there and they wait.

And what are they waiting for? Possibly they are not waiting for anything.

Possibly they are just waiting.