Upcoming documentary to show lives of refugees

Emma Collins

A short documentary detailing the ongoing ethnic violence against the Karenni people, an ethnic minority group in Burma, will be shown in the auditorium of Jody Richards Hall Thursday at 5 p.m.

“Like We Don’t Exist” shows the displacement of the Karenni people who have been forced out of their homeland and into refugee camps along the Thailand-Burma border. Burma, officially named Myanmar but often still referred to as Burma, shares part of its southeastern border with Thailand.

The film shows the plight of refugees who are forced to stay in camps because they can’t return home, Jennifer Kash, a Bowling Green community member who helped bring the film screening to WKU, said.

“It really illustrates how refugee situations are not short-term,” Kash said. “They’re long-term.”

Burma has been involved in a civil war since 1947 with continuous violence between the Burmese majority and the ethnic minorities, according to the documentary’s website. The area the Karenni people call home is rich with natural resources, and the Burmese government has destroyed Karenni villages to control the land. Throughout the destruction, the Karenni people have been the victims of human rights abuses such as sexual assault, torture and forced relocation, according to the website.

WKU’s chapter of No Lost Generation, a student group that aims to raise awareness about the challenges refugees face, is sponsoring the event.

Louisville sophomore Erin Woggon, a member of No Lost Generation, said Bowling Green has Karenni refugees who lived in the same camp that is featured in the documentary.

“This isn’t an isolated issue,” Woggon said. “We are living among the people who have lived in those camps.”

Woggon, who has already seen the documentary, said the it focuses on a variety of different people and provided a “good representation” of life in a refugee camp. She said although the documentary is only 30 minutes long, it still manages to accurately represent the struggles the Karenni people face in the refugee camps.

“I thought it was very emotional and persuasive,” Woggon said.

Kash said there are a few hundred Karenni refugees in Bowling Green. She said they have their own language, culture and history separate from the Burmese. Kash said Burma has other ethnic groups as well, many of which have their own culture and language.

“I think it is important to understand there are many ethnic groups in Burma, and they’re all different,” Kash said.

Kash said people are welcome to come to just the documentary screening. There will be a panel discussion with a few professors and Karenni refugees after the screening.

April Memeh, a Karenni refugee from Thailand, helped Kash bring the documentary to Bowling Green. Memeh said she lived in a refugee camp before moving to Bowling Green. She said she hopes showing the documentary will help the Bowling Green community learn about life in a refugee camp.

“It’s really hard for people to understand living in a refugee camp,” Memeh said.

The Bowling Green Karenni Community, WKU No Lost Generation, the City of Bowling Green International Communities Advisory Council and the Community Action of Southern Kentucky are hosting the free screening. The executive producer of the film, Ansley Sawyer, will also attend the screening.

A panel discussion will follow the screening.

Reporter Emma Collins can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected].