By Joyce Gan

THE MORE THAN 300 people who attended the World Refugee Day Mass at Church of the Holy Spirit on Friday Jun 29 were reminded by Archbishop Nicholas Chia to "remember that Mary, Joseph and Jesus were refugees too" and were told by Burmese Father Mark, Chaplain of Karenni refugees on the Thai-Burma border, of the extremely difficult situation faced by the refugees in his area.

There are over 120,000 refugees along this Thai-Burma border, of whom 23,000 are from the Karenni ethnic group. Camps are located near thick jungles and rivers. "When there's rain, it floods. When there's strong wind, trees fall on the camps," Father Mark told the congregation.

Ninety percent of the refugees have no income but they are not allowed to leave the camps. Some would go to the jungles in search of food but they run the risk of stepping on landmines. If they go beyond their restricted boundaries, they run the risk of being shot to death by authorities. Some have never left their camp for 20 years.

As the years pass, the number of refugees increase rapidly because they enter into married life from a very young age. "In camp, birth rates are very high. Every month, about 60 babies are born," he said. "As a priest, I need to minister to them pastorally and give them sacraments like baptism."

Social problems abound in the camp - among them drunkenness, sex abuse and violence. Many, suffer from depression, even the children.

Father Mark has been with them for eight years. "I just offer my presence to them," he said.

"As long as I'm with them, I promise to do my best for them but I cannot do it alone," he continued. "We need your help and your love," he pleaded with the congregation.

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