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Caritas Thailand, a home for 120 thousand Burmese refugees

Filed under: Asia News |

ROME, May 20, 2015–Caritas Thailand “manages nine refugee camps on the western border of the country, from north to south. They are home to about 120 thousand refugees from Myanmar, mostly ethnic Karen. We prepare them to return home, even though we do not know when it will happen”, Jirawat Chenpasuk, Caritas Thailand’s ‘program coordinator’ tells AsiaNews.  He was in Rome forthe XX General Assembly of the organization.
The  karen are the largest ethnic minority in Myanmar (five million, almost 10 percent of the population) and are fleeing from a history of fierce persecution in the conflict with the central government, with wars and violence that have lasted for almost sixty years.

Jirawat explains other aspects of their work: “We are active in several areas: to help refugees, supporting rural communities, combating human trafficking and forced labor (such as the enslaved  fishermen).” “The government supports us: according to the constitution the King is the patron of all religions without distinction. Every month – says the aid worker – we meet with leaders of other religions to discuss the country’s problems. ”

Among the main activities of Caritas is the “distribution of medicine and health care in remote villages of the north, the mountains. We do the rounds of the villages every two months – says Jirawat – accompanied by priests. Along with health education also we explain the catechism. It is a good social ministry, since there are no priests or parishes. ”

Despite this “our bishop always reminds us that our work is not aimed at the conversion of the people. We must explain that this is the work of the Church and we do this for the love of Jesus, and if someone wants to convert it is a personal choice. ” “The most important thing – says the program coordinator – is that we encounter people’s lives, not just to give them material aid.”

In Thailand, most of the population is poor – about 30% living on less than $ 4 a day – and it consists of small landowners. “These people are brought to their knees by difficulties – said the Caritas coordinator – created by climate change and large companies that want to drive them from their lands or force them to use chemicals in farming that destroy the soil and leave them in debt.”

“We have programs to help these people and organize meetings in which these farmers can meet other farmers who live a different experience. They only  understand if they see “.

In the country 98% of the population is Buddhist, for this “inter-religious dialogue plays a key role in all the work of Caritas. The Christian religion is well known in Thailand – says the aid worker – thanks to educational and social institutions. Many initiatives were founded by Catholic priests centuries ago. ” Despite this ” we should probably change our way of evangelizing, because over the years the number of Catholics has not increased. Last month the first Synod of the Catholic Church in Thailand was held. It is the beginning of a long process of reform for us.” (AsiaNews)

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