Burma (MNN) – In the
spring, Thailand's secretary-general of National Security Council gave notice
of intent to close down the refugee camps along the border with Burma.
Now, the new President of Burma has publicly invited exiles to return home. But is it safe? Dyann Romeijn is a spokeswoman for Vision
Beyond Borders. "There have been
some changes that have been encouraging, but at the same time there have been
developments lately, especially in Kachin State, where there's increased
fighting. Recently, another 30,000 have been displaced."
Whether the refugees feel they can safely go home may
ultimately depend on the success of the "Peace Committees" which are working on
a peace deal.
Caution seems to be the response so far. Despite the call for exiles to return to Burma, most refugees in Thai
camps are sitting tight. Romeijn says, "These people have been through so
much that it is difficult for them to want to go back until they know that
change has actually occurring there. The Thai government, of course, at
different times has talked about sending these people back. There are about
200,000 people in refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border, and so it does
create a humanitarian situation."
Because of the overcrowding, almost 70,000 refugees fled to
a third country, with another 9,000 leaving this year.
Without lasting peace in the ethnic regions, Thailand seems
unlikely to find an acceptable way to close the camps. Most of the Vision Beyond Borders team is
taking a "wait and see" approach. Romeijn says, "It's hard, at this point, to really know what's
happening, because there are some things that are encouraging, but then again,
we are seeing some things that seem to be 'business as usual.'"
Even if things seem to have quieted down, the ministry has a
hard time sending widows and orphans back into what used to be a hostile
state. "With no protection as they
go back in, it's difficult to send people back into that situation without
being certain that they will be safe."
Without a stable peace, the camps will remain between Thailand's
desire to clear the refugees out and Burma's genocide. Even so, there is hope. "Despite the suffering
that these people have been through, despite the situations that they've witnessed,
they have a steadfast faith in God, and they have a joy in their lives that's unexplainable
outside of Jesus Christ."
Their teams not only bring aid to the camps, but they also bring
the Gospel and encourage the Karen believers who fled persecution. "If we could ask for one thing, it
really is prayer. The situation without
God is hopeless. As people pray, we are seeing breakthroughs."
The future remains unknown: Is Burma changing for good? Will
it be safe for the Burmese refugees to go home again? Do they have a home to go
back to? Is the window closing? Romeijn says the situation remains fluid. "Pray that truth would be revealed, that
God would show His perfect truth in a situation so that the right decisions can
be made, and that, above all, people would take the opportunities to share the