Aussie activists spend a week as refugees

As published with Democratic Voice of Burma. View the original here. 

While most Australians were happily tucking into bacon and eggs on Saturday morning, Jade Horrobin was finishing off the last of her week’s rations.

In the week leading up to World Refugee Day on 20 June, Horrobin had been taking part in the ‘Ration Challenge’ fundraising project designed by charity organisation Act For Peace, when for a week, participants are only allowed to eat the same food rations as distributed at the Mae La Oon refugee camp on the Thai-Burmese border.

Provided with a small amount of rice, flour, salt, fish, split peas and oil for her week’s meals, her aim was to raise AU$580 (US$450), an amount estimated to feed ten children living in a displacement camp for a year. Speaking to DVB on Monday, Horrobin said that she hoped completing the challenge would educate others in Australia about what the average refugee lives off, and inspire others to show compassion towards those who have become displaced.

“Burmese refugees have it so tough,” the young Australian said. “These innocent men, women and children were driven from their homes as a result of war and conflict, and forced to give up everything to escape violence. World Refugee Day is about raising awareness. It’s about recognising the strength and resilience of refugees around the world.”

The Thai-Burmese border is home to nine refugee camps sheltering more than 100,000 people, mostly ethnic Karens from eastern Burma who have fled decades of civil war in the region.

The Karen Women Organisation issued a press release in time for World Refugee Day on Saturday, calling on the international community to help resolve the underlying problems causing people to flee their homes.

“The conditions that led refugees to flee in the first place have yet to be resolved,” stated the press release.

“If Burma hopes to achieve a genuine sustainable peace, it is essential that the voice of refugees are heard and their rights are recognised and respected.”

The Border Consortium, an umbrella group which coordinates the distribution of humanitarian aid to the refugees, estimates that as of April 2015, more than 108,000 refugees are currently residing in displacement camps straddling along the mountainous jungle of the Thai-Burmese border. So far, AFP’s challenge has raised approximately US$297,000, enough to provide 1,772 refugees with rations for a year.

In a statement to mark World Refugee Day, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said that recent conflicts around the world have caused more people than ever to flee their home countries, and urged nations to work together in shouldering the responsibility of looking after these vulnerable people.

“More people fled last year than at any other time in our records. Around the world, almost 60 million have been displaced by conflict and persecution. Nearly 20 million of them are refugees, and more than half are children. These people rely on us for their survival and hope,” Guterres’ statement reads.

“The world needs to renew its commitment now to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its principles that made us strong. To offer safe harbor, both in our own countries and in the epicentres of the crises, and to help refugees restore their lives.”

Having successfully completed the Ration Challenge, Horrobin said that the experience was tough, but well worth the sacrifice of her usual meals and coffee.

“It’s such a powerful experience, and to be able to help make a difference to the lives of those who need it most is truly heartwarming. It was worth every grain of rice.

“It’s all about showing the world what compassion looks like, with hope my actions will help to stoke the same fire in others.”

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