We are kept like prisoners in Thailand
We started to prepare to leave. We registered in August 2005 and we were interviewed in November 2005 and we heard early in 2006 that we were going to New Zealand. We had a health check in June and we were told we would go soon, maybe in July. Our friends who are already in New Zealand called us and said they heard we were coming and the house was ready for us, but we waited and waited and waited and no one came to call us.
When we applied for resettlement Section 19, where we lived, was part of the main refugee camp 1 in Baan Mai Nai Soi. After we were chosen to go to third countries, the authorities said that Section 19 was no longer be part of the camp (they made this official early in 2007; but we were due to leave in 2006). The Governor’s office started to argue that we never had the right to apply. My brother in law said many times ‘Why did they let us register, why did they write to tell us we could go, why did they tell us to get ready to go, why did they do medical checks if we were not allowed to go? Better they tell us at the beginning that we cannot go. Then they told us nothing; they said wait you will go soon, then no one came to tell us anything. This is why we are going crazy. We are human beings not animals that you do not talk to”.
So I took my rings off. I love my culture, but it is our tradition which has made me a prisoner. First I took off the heavy shoulder rings, then a few weeks later I made my neck rings shorter, then I took them all off – my neck rings and my leg rings which hurt my legs a lot. My sister helped me take them off. When I first took them off I felt very strange. I thought I would feel light, but I felt heavy. My niece, who is 12 years old, took her rings off and soon my sister will take her rings off too. We are sorry to throw away our culture but we are forced to do this because of our situation.
But now the people in my village and the Thai people still stare at me and gossip about me because I took the rings off. They say I am not beautiful anymore and I am no use. They say bad things about me; so now I have gone to live inside the refugee camp away from all the tourists. They also spoke badly about my brother-in-law; they were cross with him because they said he made the Thais angry with the Kayan people. At first the camp authorities said we could move into the camp if we wanted to, but then they said we couldn’t. Then they said we must move to Huay Pu Keng near the Burmese border, but we were frightened to go there; then they said we could stay where we were. We were very confused as the governor’s office tell us one thing, but the Ampeur’s office tell us another thing and the Oo Sor (Thai security guards) tell us something else; so we are always very confused about our situation and UNHCR do not come to explain anything to us. But in the end we all just went into the camp.
One thing we know is that we are really refugees; we are victims of war and we have UNHCR registration papers and the Thai authorities gave us BMN status; this means they accept we are refugees, so why are we treated differently from the other refugees? There are only a few of the Kayan who want to leave. Why can’t they let us leave; they will still have other long-neck women to attract the tourists to Mae Hong Son. We are not going to make a tourist village in another country; we want to escape from that life. The villages will not close because of me. More than 20,000 refugees have already left from the other camps. The governor says he keeps us here because we are happy; maybe some people are happy and they want to stay in Thailand, but my family and I want to go, so why do they make us stay here?
Now I don’t care which country I go to; I just want to leave Thailand. I am so angry I cannot live here anymore.
Most of all I want to be free.
(Video) Al Jazeera English: Everywoman (from 5:20)
BBC News: Burmese women in Thai 'human zoo'
The Sydney Morning Herald: Imprisoned in rings of brass