The Book

The Shan: Refugees Without A Camp

Summary of The Shan: Refugees without a Camp

“I cannot go back to Burma, Teacher. They will kill me.”

The Shan: Refugees Without a Camp (book cover)

The Shan: Refugees Without a Camp (book cover)

A mix of memoir, travelogue, and history, The Shan: Refugees without a Camp recounts the trials and triumphs of Shan youth, who have escaped slow genocide in Burma by fleeing to Thailand. There they study English and tell stories about life in Burma, where Shan men serve as human minesweepers for Burmese soldiers searching for insurgents. They talk about the danger of death by starvation, beating, or bullets in a country where poor Shan women often become prostitutes and young Shan girls are raped by Burmese soldiers.

The refugees’ stories are interspersed with reminiscences about the author’s own life. Under the watchful eye of the military, she travels in Burma to see the persecution students experienced, but finds that “trouble” areas are off limits to tourists and that the peaceful façade of cities is maintained by polite, helpful, and poverty-stricken people. They are stories of tragedy, hope, and love.

Author’s Bio

Bernice Koehler Johnson has lived and taught English in Spain, Indonesia, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and Thailand. Presently she lives in Minnesota and Thailand. She speaks to church groups, school groups, and civic groups, talking about the plight of Shan refugees and raising money for projects her former students have initiated, such as teaching the English, Shan, and Thai languages to Shan refugee children. These children have fled to Thailand with their parents, who live with the constant fear of being deported and subjected to torture, imprisonment, and death.

The Shan: Refugees Without a Camp is available at

Listen to Bernice Koehler Johnson talk about her book The Shan: Refugees without a Camp to KFAI radio in Minneapolis.

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