A new life in Finland

Ruti, his wife Pote and their five grandchildren will soon move from Tham Hin refugee camp in Thailand to Finland.

A new and unknown life in Finland awaits Ruti, a 71-year-old refugee from Myanmar, who has spent the past 14 years together with his wife Pote in Tham Hin, a UNHCR assisted refugee camp on the Thai-Myanmar border.

Soon, before the harsh Nordic winter sets in, these grandparents will move with their five grandchildren from the temporary refugee camp that has been their home for the past 14 years. For all but one of the children life in the camp is the only life they have ever known. The children’s parents have recently passed away, and reflecting on this Ruti turns silent and somber. He brightens, however, as he explains how his family will be reunited with another of his daughters who made the passage to Finland a few years ago.

The story of Ruti and his family is similar to that of many Karen and Karenni refugees who stay in the nine camps close to the Thai-Burmese border. “O­ne day, the Burmese military attacked our village and we were forced to leave everything behind and make the journey step by step to Thailand”, Ruti recalls. The conflict between the Burmese authorities and the ethnic Karen people of Myanmar’s remote regions is one of the most protracted in the world today and has given rise to large numbers of displaced people who seek the protection offered by UNHCR.

Tham Hin is a closed camp run by the Thai government, meaning that the over 4,000 individuals who live there are not permitted to leave the confines of the 11-hectare area. Not allowed to work to support themselves they are reliant on the food, water and shelter provided by UNHCR and its implementing partners.

There is nothing in the camp that Ruti will miss. However, he does acknowledge that “we don’t need to be afraid in this camp, we have food and peace”.

Many refugees remain in the camps hoping that one day they may return home. However, in recent years many have turned to resettlement as an alternative durable solution. From the Tham Hin camp most of the refugees who have left have begun life afresh in the USA and a small number have resettled in Sweden, Norway and Finland.

The confined living conditions with limited access to the outside world mean that most refugees in the camp can barely conceive of life in a place as foreign as northern Europe. Ruti does not know what part of Finland will be his new home and he struggles to understand the concept of lakes turning to ice in winter. But, for Ruti, the fact that he will be reunited with his daughter means that the day of his journey to the north cannot come soon enough.


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