Baw Meh, 78 years old: “I got married very young. My parents arranged it. We never saw each other before the wedding. He said, you’re very slim, and I said, you’re handsome and manly. We laughed but after those first words we were shy to walk together. We had good times and difficult times. When the fighting spread to our village we were forced to move. The soldiers burnt everything and we lost all our property. There were many of us crossing mountains and rivers. We took a basket to carry a pot, an axe, charcoal and 30 cups of rice. I carried the children and ran. They grew up as we ran and they became adults in the camp in Thailand. ”
“We had to flee just after I gave birth to the youngest daughter. I wanted her to go to school when she was young and to be educated but we couldn’t. Now I live with her and my grandsons who attend school at the camp. It makes me happy. I hope they continue studying because I want them to be educated. I want them to be like you [referring to UNHCR staff].”
“I thought we would go back to our village soon after we left. But we couldn’t. We have been in this camp for about 20 years.”
Baw Meh (back, 78), walking with her friends, Klaw Meh (right) and Oo Meh (left), in Ban Mai Nai Soi refugee camp. © UNHCR / R. ARNOLD
Baw Meh, 78, with her grandsons, Ko Reh, 10, and Ti Reh, 5, at Ban Mai Nai Soi refugee camp, located approximately two kilometres from the Thai-Myanmar border. © UNHCR / R. ARNOLD
Baw Meh sits in the doorway of the home she shares with her children and grandchildren in Ban Mai Nai Soi refugee camp. © UNHCR / R. ARNOLD
Baw Meh (left) watches as her friend Klaw Meh (right) cleans rice in Ban Mai Nai Soi refugee camp. Like most refugees living here, she trekked through the jungle with her husband and six children, crossing rivers and sleeping on the forest floor, carrying their life possessions on their back. © UNHCR / R. ARNOLD
Baw Meh, 78, looks on as her daughter, Pray Meh, and grandson, Ti Reh, 5, prepare a meal in the hut they share at Ban Mai Nai Soi refugee camp. © UNHCR / R. ARNOLD
Baw Meh, with her grandson, Ti Reh, 5, doing chores outside the hut she shares with her daughter. She has called Ban Mai Nai Soi refugee camp home for the past 18 years. © UNHCR / R. ARNOLD Thailand
Baw Meh is a Karenni refugee living in the Ban Mai Nai Soi camp in northern Thailand. She still wears traditional clothing and the jewellery she brought with her when she fled Myanmar. © UNHCR / R. ARNOLD
Baw Meh likes to sing traditional Karenni songs when she cooks for her family in the evenings. She also likes to speak about her husband, who died in 2013 before he could fulfill his dream of returning home. Many of her children and grandchildren have been resettled to third countries. One of her grandsons said to her before leaving: “I’ll take care of you from America. One day I will come back to see you.” Baw Meh has refused to leave. She prefers to stay close to her husband, who is buried in the western part of the camp as it is closer to their village in Myanmar, which lies across the border, just out of reach.
Baw Meh, now 77, fled Myanmar’s Kayah state in 1996. Twenty years later, three generations of her Karenni family are still living at Ban Mai Nai Soi refugee camp in northern Thailand. Myanmar refugees in Thailand are victims of one of the longest-running refugee situations in the world, though some of them are now considering voluntary repatriation to Myanmar as conditions improve back home.