The Karens are tribe people. The population of Karens is around 14 million. The majority of the Karens live inside Burma. There is a number of Karen refugees living in a border area of Thailand.
Traditionally, most Karens are farmers who farm the nutrient rich soils of southern Burma and eastern Thailand. The religion of the Karen majority is Animism and Buddhism although about 30% of them are Christians. Karens, unlike other large ethnic groups, are made-up of smaller subgroups which very often speak in their own dialects. There two main groups of Karens: the Sgaws(S'waw) and the Pwos.
Karens are known for their colorful traditional clothes. They love to sing and dance. Karens are well known for their hospitality and friendliness which they readily extend to everyone.
Displacement by mass forced relocation program started from the construction of Yadada gas pipeline, and followed by a massive relocation exercise in late 1996, which was thought to be due to the consolidation of the area by the new Coastal Regional Command, took place around the Mergui/Palaw area.
The combination of the gas pipeline, the various road projects, lignite and tin mines, the oil palm plantations and the fishing and tourism opportunities in the Mergui archipelago make this region very attractive to the SPDC to secure and develop for their own.
In 1997 Burmese troops made and offensive against the KNU's Mergui-Tavoy District HQ in the east of the division on the Thai-Burmese border and overran it and occupied some parts of the district.
According to Committee for Internally Displaced Karen Peope's Mergui-Tavoy district, 122 Karen villages were destroyed, 86 were forcibly relocated while 31 villages remain unaffected by forced relocation program or Burmese troop's offensive. After 1997, 74 percent of Karen populations are in forced relocation sites, 9 percent are hiding in the jungle as internally displaced people while 17 percent become refugees and as externally displaced people or illegal immigrants in Thai villages on the border.
Human rights abuses are systematically carried out by the Burma army against the Karen population and other ethnic groups or civilian for decades and so far. Notably extra judicial killing, torture, forced labour, forced portering, forced relocation, extortion, rape, destruction of properties, land confiscation, culture/literature oppressions and other etc.
Plight of Karen refugees west of Hua Hin.
There are number of Karen villages in the mountain about 65km west of Hua Hin close to the border with Burma. They are located few kilometer from the Pala U waterfall. Karens in these villages are Christians. Each village has 10 - 20 families. The village which I have visited had about 10 bamboo houses, a shop, a school and a church.
Most of Karens speak only their own language. They speak very little Thai despite that they have been living in Thailand for quite a long time. Because they have problem to communicate with the locals it is difficult for them to compete for the few local jobs available. The language barrier, location high in the mountains makes them isolated from the rest of the world. They are only visited by handful of foreign tourists. The Thai goverment has issued to the Karens ID cards which are only valid for the Prachuab Khiri Khan Distric. They are not allowed to travel anywhere else in Thailand.
The school in the village does not have any teacher, as they do not want to be isolated in the mountains. They prefer teaching jobs in the cities where life is more comfortable. The older children 10 - 16 are attending a Karen boarding school down the mountains. The small children do not have any education. They just play with each other the whole day.
On Monday morning the older children walk for about two hours down the mountains to the boarding school. They need to cross three stream. They can only access the school when the water level in the streams is low.On Friday afternoon they walk back to the village to their parents.
The boarding school compound has about 10 bamboo houses where the children sleep. The school compound accomodates about 30 children. There is an area with two classroom and a small library.
I went to see the school kitchen. Inside there was a small place to make fire, nearby was one clay pot with water and another metal pot for cooking meals for the children. In the store next to the kitchen were about 5 bags with rice and nothing else. I could see that the situation at the school compound was a bit desparate.
The school and the villages are only supported by missionaries and the Thai travel agency taking tourist for trips to see the Karens. During our visit the Thai guides brought for the school 20 liters of cooking oil. Khun Oy and Oh, owner of the travel agency has told me that in the past they have tried to incourage the Karens to make traditional Burmese crafts for sale to the foreign tourist but as the number of the tourist was very small, the Karens gave up making any crafts. Right now the Karens do not have any meaningfull purpose in their life apart from raising their children. There is a very little chance that they will be able to go back to their villages in Burma and continue their traditional life as farmers.
I have written this article about the Karens to alert you to their plight. Khun Oy and Khun Oh have agreed that they will take in any goods donations and take them to the Karens when they will take foreing tourist for tours to the villages.
You can donate the following items:
Household goods -
washing powder, soap, tooth paste, tooth brushes, hair combs, shampoo, rice, cooking oil, dry food, tins with food, biscuits, seeds, wind down radio, pots, cups, plates, scisors, plastic storage containers, buckets, garden tools, tools, tools for handicrafts, candles, matches, umbrellas, sandals, clothes for adult and children, fabrics, toys in good condition, balls
pens, pencils, colour pencils, drawing paper, sharpeners, rulers, rubers, abacuses, calculators, picture books, atlases, school bags, education posters, books to learn thai, music instruments
Karens School ,
Karens Bamboo Dance
List of donors so far:
Leszek Myszkowski UK
Sonja Rijken Holland
Tove Johnsen Norway
Please take any goods you want to donate to:
Khun Oy and Oh
Hua Hin Adventure Tours
69/8 Phetchkasem Rd.,
Opposite the Hua Hin Temple
Please fill in the form below if you would like more information on how to help the Karens.