The Plight of Migrants

This month's discussion guide is available in an easy print format here.

Start your meeting with the Sign of the Cross and your prayers.
Someone read: A reading from Deuteronomy 10: 18 - 19 (NIV)

He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow,
and loves the foreigner residing among you,
giving them food and clothing.
And you are to love those who are foreigners,
for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.

Read the Reflection

Many people have asked me why – why are you working in Thailand, why is there a Marist project on the Thailand/Burma border? Well, Marists are called be among the most abandoned and Burmese migrants on the Thailand/Burma border are one of the most forgotten and it's one of the most abandoned places in Asia.

In 2005 the Marist Community got kicked out of Burma (or Myanmar as it is called today) and Marists ended up in Thailand. Instead of returning to the Philippines, they realised there was a great need to serve and support Burmese Migrants on the Thailand/Burma border. Even today, there are very sad things still happening there.

Myanmar has suffered the longest running civil war in history between ethnic groups and the Burmese Military. This violence and oppression has caused a great poverty and many families just decide to leave their home, their land and choose to become a refugee or a migrant in Thailand, just to survive and have hope for their family and their future.

There are nine refugee camps on the northern top of the border, with over 160,000 refugees, and there's over 450,000 Internally Displaced People (IDP's) inside the Burma Border, being pushed around by the Burmese Military; pushed off their homes, their land, their farms. They're vulnerable to weather, the lack of shelter and no education and health opportunities.
Some refugees, when they get stuck in the camps, begin to lose hope. Others choose not to go into a camp, but try to survive in work and the Thailand government as the host, does not really seem to want to welcome or support Burmese migrants, but rather wants to use them as just cheap labour, doing the 3 D jobs as they call them: Dirty, Difficult and Dangerous - or desperate jobs that migrants are often doing.

When they come across the southern border of Ranong, they end up in the sex industry or the fishing industry, fish factories, charcoal factories, construction or low paid service work, and it causes many Burmese migrant families to live quite desperately.
It's actually hard for us to understand or appreciate just how difficult the experience is for them.

I often encourage people to think: Imagine working for 10 hours standing up on your feet in a smelly fish factory, cutting the heads off the fish. Or packing a 100 large charcoal bags in a dirty and dusty charcoal factory. Or working in the 30-40 degree heat on a building site with pretty much no safety and no modern machinery. And for all of this work you may be lucky to receive 8-11 NZ dollars.

After you feed your family you've only got a few dollars left, which needs to go toward renting your small concrete, hot house, a little room. Your house is actually really a room, with a concrete box, the size probably of your kitchen with a tin roof and 40 degrees heat - it's almost unbearable. When you go into a Burmese migrant home, you just simply see a small mat on the floor and a cupboard with some clothes in it and pretty much nothing else.

Being a migrant you're vulnerable if you don't have the proper legal documents and only about 50% of migrants have the right documents, because they cost so much money. Sometimes your Thai boss refuses to give you the work documents and keeps you vulnerable and enslaved to him or her. So then you become unable to leave the shop or the factory, or where you work, because you fear being caught by the police.

It's pretty common for parents or children to get caught and they can get ransomed back to the family for a very large fee. You have to pay the police to get your children or your parents back. All these different things keep migrants very poor and vulnerable and stuck in the 3 D jobs (the Dirty, Difficult, Dangerous jobs).

Sometimes I'm actually quite traumatised myself, visiting homes and seeing rotten floor boards, no roof, no food; children in a storm rescuing all their blankets and piling up everything in one corner and sleeping on top of all that, holding desperately to the bucket of rice – which is their main possession and main food.

And it's made me realise I take so much for granted. Back home in New Zealand we have a healthy home. Electricity. A fridge with food in it. The cupboards have tins of food. Running water. Good health. A toilet. Footpaths. Education. I mean, it's so easy to take the gift of reading and writing for granted; the freedom just to walk around without having documents in your pocket, or fear of being caught.

When I came home recently for a holiday, I just noticed so many people complaining so often about so many things. The Flag debate. Roadworks. Slow internet. No work promotion. No pay rise. A few money problems, but from where I have been and where I live and work and serve in Ranong among Burmese migrants, so many of the things we complain about here in New Zealand are nothing, absolutely nothing, compared to the obstacles migrant families and their children face.

Sometimes I think I am so lucky, having the opportunity of being a missionary in a challenging situation in a developing country. If I had just stayed home in NZ, I wouldn't have anything to compare it with.

It's been almost 3 years now and I can remember about a year ago, making a decision not to complain again. When I stop and think about my life now, I just feel so incredibly lucky.


What stories or news have you heard about Burma / Myanmar? Do you know any story of a refugee or migrant?

What are your feelings as you imagine having to leave home, family, and go to a new country?
What would be your biggest hope? Biggest fear?

We can think of Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus as a young Migrant / Refugee family having to go to Egypt because of crazy political leaders (Herod) and military abuse (killing of all babies).

Would you consider Migrants and Refugees to be among the 'most abandoned'?

Are you aware of migrants and refugees in your community? What more could we do to welcome them and help them avoid isolation and exploitation?

Prayer time:
Prayers from the Marist Prayer Card and /or for your own intentions

Conclude the meeting with the prayer of Pope Francis for victims of migration...

Merciful God and Father of all, 
wake us from the slumber of indifference, 
open our eyes to their suffering,and free us from the insensitivity 
born of worldly comfort and self-centeredness. 

Inspire us, as nations, communities and individuals, 
to see that those who come to our shores, are our brothers and sisters. 
May we share with them the blessings we have received from your hand, 
and recognize that together, as one human family, we are all migrants,
journeying in hope to you, our true home, 
where every tear will be wiped away, 
where we will be at peace and safe in your embrace. Amen

If you would like to read the whole prayer of Pope Francis, you can see it here.