Karen Refugee Resettlement Accelerates
A group of 31 Karen refugees today left Mae La refugee camp on the
Thai-Myanmar border aboard an IOM bus to start new lives in the
United States of America.
The refugees, the youngest of whom is two and the oldest of whom
is 68, are the first of several thousand expected to travel to the
US from Mae La in the coming months under an agreement between
Thailand and the US government.
The camp, which is just 8 km from Myanmar's conflict-ridden
Karen state, is home to some 45,000 mainly Karen refugees, and is
the largest of Thailand's ten border camps, housing nearly a third
of the country's 140,000 registered refugees.
Under the agreement between the Thai authorities and the US
State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration
(PRM), any UNHCR-registered Mae La camp resident can now apply for
resettlement in the US.
They are then interviewed by the International Rescue Committee
(IRC), the US government's designated Overseas Processing Entity
(OPE), and the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (CIS), which
accepts or rejects their application.
If an application is approved, IOM provides medical screening to
check for communicable diseases and a three-to-five-day "cultural
orientation" course, before arranging the refugees' travel to final
destinations in the USA. IOM also provides "pre-screening" for
infectious tuberculosis to speed treatment and the resettlement
IOM cultural orientation staff in the camp try to prepare the
refugees, 50 per cent of whom are under 18 and many of whom have
spent their whole lives in the camp, for the culture shock of life
The refugees leaving Mae La today are destined for resettlement
in states including Oregon, Kentucky, Texas, New York, California,
Pennsylvania, Indiana and North Carolina. After a 7-hour bus
journey to Bangkok and up to 36 hours flying time, they will be met
on arrival at their final destination by voluntary agencies
identified by PRM to help ease their integration into US
Mae La camp is the second major Thai-Myanmar border camp
targeted for resettlement in the US and other resettlement
countries. Last year IOM moved some 4,000 refugees from Tham Hin,
another camp south of Mae La and three hours west of Bangkok.
IOM Thailand currently provides resettlement services including
medical screening and treatment, cultural orientation, travel,
transit and reception assistance to ten resettlement countries
including the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Denmark,
Finland, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
Ireland will also take refugees from Thailand for the first time
later this year.
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