Story of I Ne Meh, refugee in Thailand.
Forced to tackle a new world
When a community is faced with war and conflict, parents may feel the only chance to save their children is to send them unaccompanied to safety in another county. But the risks for unaccompanied children are great and terrible. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), along with our local partners, works in refugee camps across the world to protect children from exploitation and help them access the support they need. In Thailand we met one Child Protection Monitor helping to protect at risk Karenni children….
It is over a decade since I Ne Meh has seen her parents. At the age of 17 she was forced by them to leave their homeland in Karenni state, Myanmar and head to the refugee camps of Northern Thailand where they were certain she would find a better, safer future.
“My parents are still in Burma and I know they get questioned about where I have gone,” says I Ne Meh. “They wanted me to leave as they did not want something bad to happen to me. At that time we had heard talk of forced labour and other bad things.”
“The troops used to come to our village all the time and cause problems for us, like taking food, destroying things, and had done for many many years. We were all very scared of them and what they might do, we're never really sure. Often we would have to just run and hide in the forest, especially us girls.”
I Ne Meh left with a group of teenagers from her village: “We all walked together and it took around ten days. From our home it was a straight road to follow but we couldn't take that straight path as they were watching and they would find us and then terrible things could happen.”
Searching for a better future
It was 2003 when I Ne Meh reached the Ban Mai NaiSoi refugee camp in Northern Thailand. On arrival she found some other distant relatives but alone, and missing her parents, she was homesick and uncertain of her future.
“When I got here I was lonely and I missed my parents. I worried about them and even though it is safe here, I thought a lot about what I saw in Burma. I was just 17. I heard I could go to schoolhere and so I went to learn and try to finish some of my final years of education.”
Providing an education to children is not only important in terms of development, it is also one of the best ways to keep children safe. School helped to open the world to I Ne Meh. She made friends with classmates and was a very hard worker; quickly catching up on the years of study she had missed in Myanmar. She also met the love of her life and, the man who three years after arriving, became her husband.
“I enjoyed school very much and this is also where I met my husband – he was also studying and supported me to finish high school,” says I Ne Meh. “After three years here we got married. We are from different areas of Burma so I would not have met him if I hadn’t come here.”
Unprotected to protector
Today, as a mother of two young boys aged six and three, I Ne Meh is a Child Protection Monitor in the camp, using the education she was given to help to protect other Karenni children who are at risk.
“I have been a child protection monitor for five years,” says I Ne Meh. “I love my work here, I like helping children who are less happy than mine. It is hard life here so this is verygood and important work here.”
Not only does I Ne Meh’s work help to provide basic protection for at risk children, it also provides her own family with an added source of income: “I did a basic six week course to learn about monitoring work and now I get paid 1000 baht per month to do this work. Most of my daily tasks centre on following up on monitoring work and specific cases and I can do this job because my children are in nursery and primary school.”
It is only thanks to the support of individuals like you that UNHCR can work on the ground to help develop simple but effective programmes just like this one. But as our resources are increasingly stretched across the world, training refugee communities and supporting them is vital to helping them find a better future and, a better future can with properly protecting, caring and educating children.