The refugees, the youngest of whom is two and the oldest of whom is 68, are the first of several thousand expected to travel to the US from Mae La in the coming months under an agreement between Thailand and the US government.
The camp, which is just 8 km from Myanmar's conflict-ridden Karen state, is home to some 45,000 mainly Karen refugees, and is the largest of Thailand's ten border camps, housing nearly a third of the country's 140,000 registered refugees.
Under the agreement between the Thai authorities and the US State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM), any UNHCR-registered Mae La camp resident can now apply for resettlement in the US.
They are then interviewed by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), the US government's designated Overseas Processing Entity (OPE), and the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (CIS), which accepts or rejects their application.
If an application is approved, IOM provides medical screening to check for communicable diseases and a three-to-five-day "cultural orientation" course, before arranging the refugees' travel to final destinations in the USA. IOM also provides "pre-screening" for infectious tuberculosis to speed treatment and the resettlement process.
IOM cultural orientation staff in the camp try to prepare the refugees, 50 per cent of whom are under 18 and many of whom have spent their whole lives in the camp, for the culture shock of life in America.
The refugees leaving Mae La today are destined for resettlement in states including Oregon, Kentucky, Texas, New York, California, Pennsylvania, Indiana and North Carolina. After a 7-hour bus journey to Bangkok and up to 36 hours flying time, they will be met on arrival at their final destination by voluntary agencies identified by PRM to help ease their integration into US society.
Mae La camp is the second major Thai-Myanmar border camp targeted for resettlement in the US and other resettlement countries. Last year IOM moved some 4,000 refugees from Tham Hin, another camp south of Mae La and three hours west of Bangkok.
IOM Thailand currently provides resettlement services including medical screening and treatment, cultural orientation, travel, transit and reception assistance to ten resettlement countries including the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Ireland will also take refugees from Thailand for the first time later this year.
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