Close sites icon close
Search form

Search for the country site.

Country profile

Country website

A visit to the Karen refugees – Tham Him Refugee Camp in Thailand


A visit to the Karen refugees – Tham Him Refugee Camp in Thailand

22 May 2014 Also available in:

My name is Daphnie, and I am working as part of the Donor Care team in the Hong Kong fundraising office. Last September, I visited the Karen refugees in the Tham Hin refugee camp, which is about three hours away from Bangkok by car. I was grateful to have this opportunity to understand the lives and the future hopes of the refugees I met throughout my camp visit.

The Karen is a friendly ethnic group. They were kind to the visitors and willing to have their pictures taken with us and share their stories. I interviewed a family that had six members. I asked the mother about her dreams, and she replied “As long as my daughter and son are fine, I don’t have anything to dream about. But I do miss my mother, because I have not seen her for years since she resettled in America. I wish I could reunite with her.” The process of applying for resettlement can take a long time, and the family longs to be resettled as soon as possible in order to reunite with the rest of their family.

I visited the camp committee that was formed by the refugees to look after the camp’s financial budget, maintain infrastructures and strengthen camp order and security. As I elaborated on the work of the fundraising team, the team members expressed their thanks to the UNHCR colleagues and their gratitude for the donors’ contributions. “I really appreciate the efforts by the Hong Kong fundraising team to share and explain the refugees’ situation publicly. Bless every donor!” one refugee said.

Thanks to our donors’ support, the refugee children can access education even while they are displaced. The school is simple and undecorated, but the students are happy to go to school. The teacher, who is also a Karen refugee, isteaching students Burmese, trying to keep their ethnic origins. There are approximately 71 teachers, aged between 17-20, and a total of 1,761 students in the camp. Since most of the experienced teachers have already been resettled to another country, the age gap between teachers and students is narrow.

There is a clinic in the camp operated by the International Rescue Committee (IRC). And, while it has a waiting room made of bamboo, it has good medical facilities and has allowed 95% of the pregnant women gave birth in a clean delivery room. Only few serious cases have had to transfer to a local hospital, a 45-minute drive away from the camp.

The clinical staff records the number of infected patients daily in order to ensure diseases will not spread around the camp. These include malaria, dengue fever and diarrhoea. In addition to medical care, the centre emphasises the importance of birth control and has put up posters to assist education.

There is a food distribution center and storage area in the camp. Babies, children and adults receive standard rations of rice, soy, salt and charcoal twice a month. Posters illustrate these allowances in a simple way.

The vocational training centre was my last site to visit. The centre provides hairdressing, sewing, cookery and agricultural workshops for the refugees, so they can learn practical skills with which to earn a living. In the hairdressing centre, they learn simple cutting, colouring and perming skills. These learners practice their hairdressing skills by designing new hairstyles for the refugee women.

Refugee women also learn basic sewing techniques, and can make clothes for their families and tablecloths to sell in the camp. But traditional Karen sewing skills have also been preserved even though new technology has been introduced. One woman demonstrated the simple and traditional sewing techniques used to make new clothes.

After visiting the camp, I understand more about the Karen ethnic group. Even though they are living in a closed refugee camp where resources are inadequate, they maintain a humble and optimistic attitude. The school and vocational centre offer them basic education opportunities and the medical service in the camp provides health care. So while the Karen refugees might not be able to fully understand the future, they still hold hopes and dreams. For me, this was the chance to see how our donors have helped make their lives a little less desperate. And the refugees do really appreciate your support!

A photo essay by UNHCR Staff - Daphnie Chan



The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was established on 14 December 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly. The agency is mandated to lead and coordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee issues. It strives to ensure that everyone has the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another state, with the option to voluntarily return home when conditions are conducive for return, integrate locally or resettle to a third country. UNHCR has twice won the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1954 for its ground-breaking work in helping the refugees of Europe, and in 1981 for its worldwide assistance to refugees.