100% Thai. 100% Free.

How sponsorship is preventing the exploitation of ethnic minorities displaced by war.

Eleven-year-old Thidarat from Thailand is afraid of war. She is a Compassion-sponsored child who lives in a peaceful village on the border of Myanmar.

But the memory of war looms over many of her neighbors, nearly all of whom fled violence in Myanmar in the past.

Her father, Mou-ae, grew up in the former Karen, now Kayin State of Myanmar, which has been fighting on and off for independence since the 1940s.

He often heard gunshots and explosions from neighboring villages, and atrocities, such as systematic rape and the razing of villages of the Karen people, were documented by human rights watch groups for decades. Many of his teenage friends became fighters — and died. Others were maimed from land mines.

One day, the soldiers came to Mou-ae’s village. They had been many times before. Mou-ae and his mother knew they would kill. They always did. This time, Mou-ae and his mother grabbed a few items of clothing and ran.

After three days they made it to the Moei River — the border of Thailand and their escape from death. Mou-ae has lived in Thailand ever since that day. First with his mother and wife, and now alone with his four children, since his wife and mother have passed away.

As a displaced ethnic minority, Mou-ae has never really been free.  He wants his children to have more opportunities than he has had.

Hundreds of thousands of people, mostly ethnic minorities like Mou-ae, have fled into northern Thailand from Myanmar trying to escape violence. Like Mou-ae, they have started families, and their kids have grown up in communities with other immigrants along the border.

These de facto refugees are the most vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking.

According to the U.S. Department of State, “Foreign migrants, members of ethnic minorities and stateless persons in Thailand are at the greatest risk of being trafficked, and they experience various abuses … including the withholding of travel documents, migrant registration cards, work permits, and wages.”

Kannika Keerecharean, a Compassion center director in a village of people who have fled Myanmar, says, in her opinion, trafficking is common. “When the [trafficking] agencies come, they promise to provide all the legal documents for foreigner laborers. But what happens is when these noncitizens go to the cities, they find the agency never did any documentation for them. So they become illegal labor in that area.”

Usually the agency brings people to jobs as domestic servants, and they find themselves trapped without legal documentation. Sometimes refugees are forced into prostitution.

Kannika Keerecharean, whose family escaped Myanmar, is a Compassion center director. She has dedicated herself to helping children gain Thai citizenship so they are protected from human rights violations common among stateless persons in Thailand.
Tragically, tens of thousands of victims have been coerced into the sex trade and other forms of exploitation in Thailand.

Besides the risk of trafficking, these migrants and their children don’t have the same access to health care or education as Thai citizens. Without citizenship, students don’t receive an official certificate after graduation and many avenues of employment are closed to them, including higher education. They cannot own land and are not free to live or work outside of their province.

They are trapped in the extreme poverty of the villages along the border.

Children on the border of Myanmar, where people have been fleeing violence for decades.

The Thai government does make a way for the children of migrants who were born in Thailand to become citizens. But it’s a long process, and most do not know the steps.

Compassion has been working for years to help children of migrants gain citizenship.

Compassion Thailand partnered with International Justice Mission (IJM) to help those eligible acquire citizenship. IJM has trained Compassion’s church partner staff, who now regularly help the children in their care gain citizenship, along with their families and community members.

Thidarat is one of the hundreds of children who have become citizens through the support of Compassion church partners.

In fact, all of Mou-ae’s children are now citizens.

They can receive education.

They benefit from health care.

They can travel and work.

They are free.

Where once they would have been prime targets for trafficking, now they can pursue opportunities to flourish as Thai citizens.

“My hope is that all my children have big careers and can take care of themselves well,” says Mou-ae. “That’s all I have.”

Thidarat is full of hope. She says, “I am so happy I am a Thai person 100 percent!” She wants to be a nurse — a job only citizens can hold since only citizens can access the education necessary. Now she has the opportunities to reach her dreams and become who God intended her to be.

Kannika, Compassion center director, and Nat, mentor, help Thidarat when she’s having trouble at school and advise her about her future.
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August 2018

How sponsorship is helping prevent exploitation of ethnic minorities displaced by war.

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100% Thai. 100% Free.

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