Karen refugees living in Mae La are caught in a legal limbo, unable to return to Burma any time soon, their restricted status denies them opportunities to live and work freely in Thai society.
While 20,000 refugees have been resettled in Australia, the United States and Canada since the mid-90s, the nine UNHCR established refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border, are now home to a total of 124,300 registered refugees.
Refugee and migrant populations are considered to be at high risk from sexually transmitted infections and HIV. Women are particularly at risk.
In 1995 Naw Jacqueline Min started a HIV and AIDS program in Mae La with four clients. This grew to over 100 in 2009. UNHCR meets the expenses of this program; EUROPAD funds the Anti-retroviral treatment and monitoring of their immunity levels.
However, most people living with HIV and AIDS (PLWHAs) are extremely poor and the meagre camp rations are not sufficient to maintain their healthy nutritional status. PLWHAs are unable to generate income and generally lack self-esteem due to the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS.
Since 1990, Anglican Overseas Aid has provided almost $ 302,000 for emergency relief, education and health programs for Karen refugees in Thailand.
With Anglican Overseas Aid support through Karen Anglican Ministry at the Border, the Mae La PLWHA Committee is setting up an income generation program. This program will provide sewing and tailoring skills through a dedicated sewing centre adjacent to the Mae La camp.
The Mae La PLWHA Committee has purchased the official training centre building. Candidates for vocational and income generating skills training have been identified.
The children are gaining more knowledge from school, and are excited to attend. They are learning how to keep themselves clean and eat nutritious food. Now parents also have more time to work on the farm, do weaving and collect seasonal vegetables from the forest.