|Welcome to Mae Sot|
I can’t seem to get enough of IOM! After finishing my internship with IOM Cambodia, I began a short vacation and decided to visit IOM’s refugee resettlement operations in Thailand. I traveled to the Thai/Myanmar border town of Mae Sot where many refugee organizations set up their operations.
|IOM's refugee resettlement processing center|
IOM’s resettlement program in Thailand is extensive. In 2010, IOM resettled approximately 11,829 refugees, most coming from the nine refugee camps along the Thai and Myanmar border.
IOM has been conducting refugee resettlement in Thailand since 1975 after the Vietnam war. Before, most of the refugees were from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Today, IOM Thailand mostly resettles refugees from Myanmar. Thailand continues to be one of the main countries worldwide for refugee resettlement.
|A bedroom for male refugee workers.|
To process and resettle the refugees, IOM works closely with the International Rescue Committee, the U.S. Embassy’s Overseas Processing Entity, and UNHCR. It also works with the Royal Thai Government, the UN country team, and the embassies of resettlement countries.
IOM’s comprehensive operations include medical screening, cultural orientation, and travel arrangements to thirteen resettlement countries. The majority of refugees resettle in the United States. Other countries for resettlement include Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Japan, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.
The medical screening unit is impressive. Housed on an entire floor of a hospital, doctors conduct tests to check for communicable diseases and to ensure refugees are fit to travel. These procedures are clearly important for the refugees themselves but are also critical to prevent the spread of communicable and serious diseases like tuberculosis. Counseling for those struggling with difficult diseases is also offered.
|One of the many medical rooms.|
|Isolation quarters for refugees with communicable diseases.|
In addition, cultural orientations are provided for departing refugees to prepare refugees for successful integration. There are special curricula for children, families, youth, parents, and single individuals. Basic language courses are also provided.
|Flyer on culture in the United States.|
|Addressing abuse is very important and is covered in trainings.|
An IOM document "Resettlement at a Glance - 2011" references an IOM profiling study of Myanmar refugees heading to Canada in 2006. It states, "The greatest hopes of adults were to have opportunities to work and study. The greatest worries were the challenge of learning a new language and assimilating to a new culture. The study showed that both men and women had largely similar concerns. Children had generally high expectations of life in their new country and most hoped to live in a nice house and own a car. "
|Children's shoes to distribute pre-departure.|
When refugees first arrive in their new countries there is a palpable mixture of hope and fear. The process of leaving a refugee camp and resettling into a foreign country is a difficult and sometimes shocking process. Despite pre-departure trainings, many refugees don't know how to go about daily life in their new cities. In the U.S., I volunteer as a refugee advocate where I help new refugees resettle into my hometown Austin, Texas. I assist in teaching refugees how to cross the road, how to use a toilet, what to do in emergencies, etc. I've actually worked with refugees from Myanmar, of which there are a growing number in Austin.
For this reason, I found it very interesting to visit the pre-departure operations in Mae Sot. I envisioned families I've worked with sitting in the same medical rooms, visiting the same screening officials. I also really enjoyed seeing another side of IOM and I'm amazed by the breadth of IOM's work throughout Southeast Asia.
Note: Although training materials are printed and posted throughout the processing center, many refugees are not literate. The information is fully covered in trainings and the flyers serve as reminders for those that can read.