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A Nice Surprise for Some Prisoners


(Originally published on

For 40 years a missionary in Thailand, Brother Bernard WIRTH tells us about one of his ministries with the poor.


I am still working at the Detention Center and last year, I experienced some things that merit mentioning. Generally, I am used to finding nothing but problems and trouble… but in 2011, surprise! some things finally happened…

On June 1, after my return from France, at first there was misery. I found the Rohingya at the end of their rope (the Rohingya are Burmese refugees). They were exhausted. For more than two years, they had been confined for the simple reason that no one wanted them anymore. Considered foreigners in their own country, Burma, and without papers, legally they do not exist and no other country wants them. Except during my absences in France, I met with them twice each week. I shared many of their concerns and their misfortunes. I had some difficult Friday evenings. I was aware of my total inability to respond to their needs and to keep up their courage to go on living. “Why are we locked up? Why don’t we have the right to a normal life? Is this going to last forever?” Their questions still ring in my head.

Today, this calvary has ended… Finally the authorities have decided to let them go back home as they desired, so that they can return to their families, their villages. It’s not paradise, but at least they are with their own people to bear the problems together. And besides, it cannot be worse than staying locked up within four walls with 100 persons in a cell built for 20!!! Their liberation touched me deeply and relieved me. For once, there has been action; for once a group has succeeded. I must share that with my friends. Too often -- I could say almost always -- I am engaged in an endless struggle.

Everything had begun on a Friday morning in March 2009. Ninety-five persons crammed on a truck ended up at the Detention Center in Bangkok. Most of them wore just a sarong and an tee-shirt; fourteen of them were handicapped and could not even move around. Most of them were young. They had spent six months in a camp in the south, in atrocious conditions. Upon arrival here, they had red cards, meaning prohibition of contacts or visits. They were considered terrorists!!! Fifty-one came from Bangladesh and the rest from southern Burma. I got permission to meet with them…

Standing at the bars of their cell, for a long time I was their only visitor. I tried some Thai and English words with them. At the beginning, I was not successful; they were suspicious. I understood their difficulty in trusting a stranger for they had already endured so much. It took a few months for me to be accepted; then I became their big brother, their uncle, their father. In other words, they brought me into their family. I became their confidant, their intermediary with the police at times of revolt, hunger strikes, etc. When I arrived, I was mobbed. Everyone wanted to greet me, to shake my hand. “Is there something new for us?” An awful question repeated tirelessly for two years. And a terrible ordeal for me who saw all the exits blocked. After eight months, thanks to international pressure, the first miracle happened! The Bangladeshis could leave, but for the others, they would have to wait two more years!!! (Audacieux pour l’Évangile, April 2012)

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