Mrs. Bush, who has made democracy in Myanmar one of her public causes, visited a clinic in Mae Sot, the largest of nine Burmese refugee camps along the Thai border.
“Twenty years have gone by,” Mrs. Bush said, after spending the morning at the Mae La camp, which sprawls over the hills six miles from the Burmese border. “Everything is still the same, or maybe worse, in Burma, a country that was once the breadbasket that could feed itself and exported food. Now half the people who live in Burma suffer from malnutrition and hunger.”
The Bush administration has sought to intensify pressure on Myanmar’s leaders, financially and diplomatically, though to little immediate effect. Last week, Mr. Bush signed a law tightening American sanctions on gems from Myanmar and expanding limits to include Burmese stones cut or polished in other countries.
Mrs. Bush, who took up the cause of Burmese democracy after discussing Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi’s fate with Elsie Walker Kilborne, a cousin of the president, took advantage of Mr. Bush’s visit to Thailand to see firsthand the Burmese displaced by violence and repression.
Many of the estimated 140,000 Burmese living in refugee camps in Thailand fled the violence in 1988 or are the children of those who did, though the camp Mrs. Bush visited opened even earlier, in 1984, as members of the ethnic Karen group fled an armed conflict with Myanmar’s authorities. A generation has been born and reared in the camps, and as the teenage student noted, Thai law forbids them to leave. Many of the younger people are effectively stateless.