Book Response: Undaunted: My Struggle For Freedom And Survival In Burma

1323 words - 6 pages

Burma has suffered through one of the most brutal dictatorships in the world. The Karen, a minority ethnic group in the eastern mountainous region of Burma, has been fighting for a federal system instead of a dictatorship. In the late 1940s, the Karen created the Karen National Union (KNU) to fight for an independent Karen state but switched to fight for a federal system for peoples’ freedom from oppression in the 1970s. After the failure of peaceful negotiations, the KNU waged war against the central government. Undaunted by Zoya Phan is an autobiography about the challenges and injustices Zoya faced and continues to face as an ethnically Karen person. At fourteen years old, Zoya and her family had to flee their village through the jungle to a refugee camp. As a refugee herself, Zoya raises in her book the many challenges the Karen faced in regard to their collective sense of identity and security. In contrast to the Karen’s struggles as refugees, Thailand as the refugee accepting state, also faces immigration challenges with the tens of thousands of people flooding into the country. In order to address the challenges both the Karen refugees and Thailand face, a collaborative summit needs to take place between the United Nations, NGOs, political organizations (KNU), and the participating governments to set clearly defined roles to ensure the safety and basic needs of refugees, while effectively addressing Thailand’s concerns.
Life as a refugee posed various challenges to the Karen’s sense of identity. The use of guerilla style warfare between the resistance and the Burmese Army displaced tens of thousands of refugees into camps in Thailand and hidden in the jungles (139). Fighting against the clear challenges of health, food, and education within the camp’s crammed quarters, Zoya identifies with the central need of her people for freedom, “I had always wanted to be a free person, living freely in my own country and relying on myself” (124). Independence is a key part of the Karen people’s identity. However, the refugees in the camps had to completely rely on the charity of others and Zoya expressed how “accepting handouts felt so abnormal” (114). Refugees were not allowed to leave the confines of the camp, which meant they could not work, hunt or gather food, or leave for health or educational reasons. Zoya described the camp as “prison-like” (143). The Karen refugees would go through the daily routines of life, but had no hope for the future to work towards. The Karen people were independent, and the camps took away this fundamental part of their identity (144). While Zoya explained that her people were grateful for the aid, she stated in chapter seventeen how difficult it can be to be completely dependent on aid (144). Loosing their sense of independence depressed the Karen refugees who were trapped within the confines of the crowed camp, eating what little portions of fish paste and rice they were allotted day after day (144). Life as a...

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