“Around a week by foot,” quips Thu, describing how long his journey from Myanmar to Thailand took. Like many others fleeing violence in Myanmar, Thu narrates a journey of climbing mountains and navigating jungles to reach Thailand from the Tanintharyi region, just across the border.
As a teenager with his mother, he found the Tham Hin refugee camp in 2007, via a friend’s suggestion. The camp hosts thousands of ethnic Karen and Burmese refugees, many of whom have been living there for a decade. Thu explains that a never-ending spiral of violence and poverty were the main reasons he left Myanmar. At Tham Hin, he finally had the opportunity to do what he had always wanted to—study.
Enrolling in vocational school, he picked up engineering skills that were sought-after in the community. This landed him a job with an international organization in Thailand, which recruited him to maintain security and janitorial services in its Tham Hin office. Comparing his life in Myanmar to his life now, he says Thailand is much better and more peaceful.
After having settled in the camp, Thu eventually met his wife, who works as a part-time tailor for the residents of Tham Hin. They are expecting a child, he announces with a grin on his face, happy that the community library for children is right beside their home. In October 2016, a family of six refugees returned from Tham Hin to Myanmar—the first voluntary repatriation to be endorsed by both countries’ governments.
As part of his job, Thu assisted the family in their preparations for moving. Although, Thu says firmly that he does not wish to follow suit and return to Myanmar. Instead, he hopes to be resettled to a third country; specifically, the United States, where his mother has been living the past two years. When asked what he hopes for his future and that of the camp, Thu pauses to think, then proceeds to say “good luck”—a simple, yet very meaningful answer for the residents of Tham Hin.