Bangkok, 28 March 2013 — As Holy Week for 2013 began this year on Sunday 24 March, here in Bangkok we heard about the fire in Ban Mae Surin, a refugee camp home to 3,000 Karenni and Karen refugees in Mae Hong Son province.
More than 2,000 refugees lost their homes and all of their possessions, while many of the community’s clinics, nurseries, primary schools, and food storage rooms were destroyed by the flames. As of Thursday, 28 March, 37 people have died, 36 more suffer from severe injuries and are in critical condition in Chiang Mai hospital.
While the cause has yet to be determined, it is suspected that the fire started from a household cooking fire and rapidly spread to the other bamboo-thatch buildings.
It is horrible news to learn, as the devastation of the Karenni and Karen people living in Thailand is immense. As if the suffering they have already endured as refugees is not enough, the fire has displaced, destroyed and further traumatised the communities. In the face of this suffering and death, we can only be silent, not knowing why it happens.
The silence that lingers in the space of misery and death reminds me of the people standing below Jesus’ cross. They saw the tortured body of Jesus, watched his agony on the cross, and witnessed His death. Mary, his mother, was among those people who was forced to see her son’s suffering, torture, agony and death. She remained silent and at that moment may have uttered a desperate plea to understand why this happened to her Son. It seems no answer was given. She kept all things in her heart.
Good Friday is a day of mourning for Christians, as it is the day that marks Jesus’ death on the cross. On today’s Good Friday we have a tangible experience of pain and suffering. We also mourn for those we accompany, who suffer from fear of persecution. We mourn those who are now waiting in anticipation in detention, or in the urban setting with an indefinite timeline for resolution.
We would like to remember them in our prayers for renewed commitment to hospitality for these people in the world we live in.
The message of Easter is really the good news of the resurrected Jesus. It shows us that the darkness of the tomb cannot keep God from rising from the dead and to showing His helping hand. It offers us hope that renewed hospitality for refugees in our world is not impossible to strive and wait for.
It then leads us to renew our commitment to accompany, serve and defend the rights of these people. In silence we can find that even in their suffering, there is not only resilience, but a shining hope that energises our commitment to continue our service.
I would like to recall Mariya, a previously undocumented Indonesian woman who has been released and returned to the country after 8 years in the Immigration Detention Center in Bangkok.
When I met her, she replied smilingly about her situation but mostly in silence. Eight years of detention may have influenced her psycho-social well being but despite this I believe she never gave up hope of being released from the detention center.
Mariya’s situation brought JRS staff in Thailand and Indonesia into closer collaboration, they strived together to secure her release. It is this determination that we need to imbibe in our commitment to service. Mariya’s persevering hope? despite suffering in detention? can strengthen our commitment.
It may be the Easter spark and spirit that we need to celebrate in our lives. It is this spark that we need to share, to dig deeper in our accompaniment in the aftermath of the fire incident and any future calamities.