This year’s World Refugee Day Today is marked with a global call for people to #StepWithRefugees. On the Thai-Burma border, refugees who recently returned to their homeland are concerned how to make a living and look after their families.
Since 2016, and encouraged by recent political changes in Burma, 729 people from the nine refugee camps on the Thai Burma border officially returned to Burma.
While the refugees returned to different areas, many choose to go to Lay Kay Kaw, a new settlement with the aim of housing internally displaced people (IDPs), families of Karen National Unions members and returning refugee families.
The Lay Kay Kaw newtown was established after the Burma government and Karen ethnic armed groups signed the National Ceasefire Agreement five years ago in Myawaddy township, Karen State.
Despite the new settlement being located close to Myawaddy, a booming border town, there is a lack of job opportunities both for refugee returnees and other people living there.
U Saw Lay Wee, a former refugee who returned from Umphiem Mai refugee camp told Karen News that the lack of job opportunity concerns him, as he does not know how he will earn enough for his family to live on in the new settlement.
“There is no work opportunity here. One of the things that worry me is my family. I don’t have any long term work. I am worried thinking about what would be my long term work opportunities.”
U Saw Lay Wee said that in addition to food costs, he needs to pay for his children education.
“I have to pay 5,000 Kyat (about USD $3.50) for each child for the school ferry [each month…], 10,000 for two children. When they go to school, I have to pay for books and stationery – It is difficult.”
More than 3,000 people live in Lay Kay Kaw and the population is growing each year. Funding for the low-cost housing is provided by international agencies to accommodate and encourage more refugee returnees.
Since long term jobs are not available, people living there try to meet their households need by doing seasonal short-term work on farms and animal breeding.
Saw Aung Min, a refugee returnee who resettled in Lay Kay Kaw newtown said that he does everything he can to try to make enough to live on.
“I have pigs and chickens – I do pig breeding now. I also do farming as well and I drive a motorcycle taxi. It is only a little. I can’t do it every day. There’s not a big need for much transportation in our area. There will be more people that will come live here in the future. It is the same with most people who came back here to settle down. We work on a daily basis. Some people work on road repairs. It is for our livelihood.”
The new settlement has been established for five years and officials said that there are now planning to create more jobs in 2020.
Saw Htay Myint Aung, Lay Kay Kaw’s Chief Administrator told Karen News about job options for residents.
“With the plan starting in 2020, the number one [item] on the agenda is to get adults official documents. When they get official documents, we will try to facilitate for them to work abroad. Second, is we will invite investors to come here. Especially, as we can export local crops. We would welcome investments for that. The third is to create a recreational attraction. As there are not many recreational places in the Myawaddy-Mae Sot area. We have recreational places in our mountain hills, we can have Eco-tourism so that our people will have more job opportunities.”
While migration to other countries for work is one option, people like U Saw Lay Wee would prefer to stay put. He said that he would be more motivated working on his own business.
“It is good if we can have our own business here, rather than working somewhere else. We will be more motivated to run our own businesses. When we work for others, the daily and monthly salary isn’t enough to motivate us. We would be more interested in our own business. If someone would like to support me, I want to try and start a small business.”
During the peace building process between the KNU and Myanmar government, low cost housing projects have been used for hosting KNU families and IDPs in KNU controlled areas like Pa An, Megui/Tavoy and Dooplaya districts in Karen State. Lay Kay Kaw is one of the projects that will host refugee returnees.