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Video courtesy of UNHCR
Film star and UNHCR special envoy Angelina Jolie visited a Karenni woman and her family at a refugee camp near the Thai-Burmese border on Friday, to mark World Refugee Day.
Thailand is home to roughly 130,000 refugees in nine camps around the border, some sheltering on Thai soil for almost three decades due to constant civil war in various Burmese states.
According to a UNHCR video narrated by the film actress, she visited the home of Baw Meh, a Karenni woman who’s been living in Ban Mai Nai Soi camp since 1996.
“When I met Baw Meh, she was in the twilight of her life,” Jolie said. “Returning home had become a distant memory.”
Baw Meh said in the video that she and her family fled Karenni [Kayah] State without intending to stay away for so long. Now, she lives in Ban Mai Nai Soi camp with three generations of her family.
“I thought we would come here and then go straight home. But we could never go back,” Baw Meh said in the video. “My children grew up into adults in the camp. Now they too have had children.”
A ceasefire agreement signed in 1995 between the military government and the ethnic armed group Karenni National Progressive Party broke down after the Burmese Army continued to clash with Karenni troops. The region has also been the site of alleged human rights abuses over the years.
This was Jolie’s fourth visit to refugee camps around the Thai-Burmese border. The star of Hollywood blockbusters like Tomb Raider and Salt, Jolie initially became interested in humanitarian work in 2000 after filming Tomb Raider in Cambodia. She was appointed in 2012 to be a special envoy by UNHCR high commissioner Antonio Guterres.
According to the UN, Asia-Pacific is the region with the largest number of refugees and asylum seekers in the world, with 3.5 million people displaced from their homes.
Last week, Thai officials met for a three-day workshop to discuss the repatriation of Burmese refugees, and an official from the Department of Interior said that the government will be implementing a three-year timeframe for repatriation.
Rights groups for refugee and migrants are staunchly against any immediate plans for repatriation, as fighting still persists in various states while ceasefire talks between the ethnic armed groups and the government are ongoing.