For more than 30 years, the Karen people have been forced to flee their homes in Burma where they faced violence and persecution at the hands of the Burmese military, including torture, imprisonment, and village burning. Over 140,000 refugees have made it through the Burmese jungle to Thailand, where 9 refugee camps have been set up along the Thai-Burmese border. However, the conditions in the camps are equally troubling. Sanitation, clean water and proper nutrition do not exist in the camps, and Burmese troops frequently cross the border to attack, burning what they can and killing the camps’ residents at random. Likewise, the refugees are legally confined to these camps, and therefore not permitted to find work or travel outside its perimeters. Life in the camps is difficult, though for many of the younger refugees, it is the only life they know.
The international community has taken notice of this situation, and in 2006 several countries, including Canada, pledged to resettle thousands of refugees. In November 2006, 110 Karen refugees arrived in the Lower Mainland to begin a new life while hundreds more are scheduled to arrive throughout 2007 and 2008. Nonetheless, the road has not been easy for these refugees who have struggled to adapt to life in a modern city. Basic skills like using electricity, public transit and banking have been a tremendous challenge. At the same time, learning to speak English is equally daunting for the refugees, many of whom are illiterate in their own language.