Another Sort of Celebration, Part 1: World Refugee Day

Thang’s Dilemana: a Karenni refugee in Thailand tells his story.

Q: Why do we leave home?

Because office cubicles cause claustrophobia; because life is too short to stand still; because we’ve got the time, the money, or simply a dissatisfaction with life in our own country.  Whatever the reason, what we do have is a choice.  In traveling, we exercise our right to the journey.  

I’ve decided to visit Bangladesh someday, and have no doubt I’ll be accepted for a visa.

Yet right now, there are some 90,000 people fleeing the recent violence in Western Burma, and Bangladesh – which has already accepted hundreds of thousands – refuses to let more in.  These displaced people cling to boats and borders while the international community races to find them a temporary living space.

Today, I ask you to consider this anomaly; that my choice to tour will likely, easily, be granted, but a refugee’s choice to survive may be denied.

World Refugee Day, June 20, is not a holiday we celebrate with balloon parades or whimsical decorations.  It is a date we observe, “to honor the courage, strength and determination of women, men and children who are forced to flee their homes under threat of persecution, conflict and violence.” UN High Commissioner for Refugees 

Therefore, I won’t add “Happy” to the celebrations, but I will show extra respect to the Karenni women I work with.  They are all refugees, trapped like ghosts between two worlds- Thailand, and their state in Burma.  And no matter the situation, their daily hope is the improvement of a country they will, eventually, return to.

Every person deserves – and somewhere, at the bottom of their toes, wants – to make that choice.  Even as travelers who love the road; someday, even for one day, we will go home.

Appreciate the blessing of this basic human right- and let us do what we can to ensure it is available to everyone. 

To hear more survivors’ stories or learn about how you can help the plight of refugees today, visit the UNHCR web site.

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