A large number of people were displaced by the political crises and armed conflicts which beset Southeast Asia towards the end of the twentieth century. Many of them sought refuge in Thailand where large camps like Site 11 were opened close to the national borders early in the 1980s. It was here that arrangements to sponsor children were put in place for the first time. And it is in this adversity that the friendship between Children of the Mekong and the peoples of Southeast Asia was forged – a friendship which endures.
Today, years after the closure of most of the camps, Children of the Mekong continues to ensure that displaced children can get an education and that families can return home when the situation allows it. While camps for the Vietnamese boat-people and their land-people equivalents are now a thing of the past, new ones continue to see the light of day, particularly in Myanmar.
- Three major crises in Myanmar (involving Karen, Kachin and Rohingya people) have led to armed conflict and the creation – in Myanmar and in Thailand – of camps for displaced persons.
- The camps in Thailand have been in operation for 40 years. Refugees continue to arrive but the amount of foreign aid received is in decline. For example, aid from the European Commission fell from €2.1 million in 2015 to €1.3 million in 2016 when the need in the region, far from diminishing, is in fact increasing: 100,000 people live in nine camps along the border between Thailand and Myanmar. A tenth camp, for Shan people, is due to be opened in northern Thailand.
“MAKE SCHOOLS, NOT WAR”
With the civil war still rife in parts of Myanmar, getting an education is a tangible way of avoiding the militias. In addition to the clear benefits, both practical and theoretical, of academic training, going to school gives children a chance of escaping forced conscription into a militia unit.
Sponsorship enables Children of the Mekong to set up foster homes in which young people can live close to a secondary school, of which there are still very few in remote areas. These homes give families the chance to remove their children from the influence of the militias. But parents still need to be able to afford to send their children to school.
That is why Children of the Mekong has put in place a system of sponsorship to support the poorest families in Myanmar.