Mae Li and her husband just had enough time to take their children and escape when the Burmese army attacked in the night and destroyed their village. It was terrifying.
“Life in Burma was very fearful”, Mae Li said.
“When the military attacked we were very afraid. If the military did not attack then it was OK but we were often afraid. Here [in Mae La refugee camp] it is better as there is no fear.”
Mae Li is one of more than 120,000 people – Burma’s forgotten refugees – forced to flee their homes to escape death, violence and fear caused by the conflict in Burma and now living in refugee camps across the border in neighbouring Thailand.
Life in the camp is hard, but at least Mae Li has felt safe here. Up until now.
Unable to return home and confined to camps by Thai policy, refugees like Mae Li rely on food rations to survive. But recently, rations in the camps have been reduced due to funding shortages.
There simply isn’t the money to provide enough food for everyone. If more funds aren’t found soon, the refugees could be faced with an impossible decision – stay in the safety of the camps and watch their children go hungry, or return to Burma and risk violence and death.
Mae Li is terrified. If her rations are cut further, she will have no choice but to take her family back to Burma to find food – back to the place where just four years ago they were attacked in their sleep.
She will again live with the constant fear that her children might be abducted, abused or killed by the army.
“I worry about my family’s future. For my children. If I go back to Burma we will all be afraid,” Mae Li said.
Moved by this horrific situation, Rev Professor Andrew Dutney, President of the Uniting Church of Australia, has called on Australian Christians to take action and bring some Christmas joy to refugees like Mae Li by making a gift to the Christmas Bowl appeal.
“The Christmas Bowl is such a familiar part of the Uniting Church celebrations in Advent and Christmas that we almost take it for granted,” Professor Dutney said.
“But a moment’s thought about the Bowl’s support for people trapped in poverty, or fleeing their homes, or caught up in conflict, reminds us of what a privilege it is to be part of this network of practical care. “On this 65th anniversary of the Christmas Bowl I encourage all Uniting Church congregations and families to support the appeal again this year, making it a centrepiece in our celebration of the birth of Christ.”
The Christmas Bowl is the Christmas appeal of Act for Peace, the international aid agency of the National Council of Churches in Australia. The appeal brings together more than 100,000 Christians of all denominations to give relief and hope to people suffering as a result of conflict and disaster at Christmas.
Funds raised by this year’s appeal will provide food rations, vegetable seeds, tools and training. As well as supporting families such as Mae Li’s, gifts to the appeal will support other people in great need around the world, including providing emergency assistance to Christians and other minority groups fleeing violence and persecution in Iraq.
To find out more or order a church fundraising kit with worship resources, visit: www.actforpeace.org.au/christmasbowl or call 1800 025 101.