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Burmese Refugees

These photos were taken in the town of Mae Sot and at the Burmese refugee camp of Mae La in Thailand, August 2007.

A market at the Thai-Burma border town of Mae Sot.

Mae La Refugee Camp. An estimated 12,000 refugees of mainly Karen peoples,

monks, and Burmese Muslims live here.

Cynthia Maung Clinic. A man suffering from stomach cancer.

A landmine victim sits outside the recovery room. 

Landmine victims. The man in the foreground was picking bamboo shoots when the landmine exploded.

A Karen refugee, missing both her legs as a result of a landmine explosion.


For over four decades now, the military junta in Burma has ruled and controlled its people through oppression and fear. The government has squandered state funds, left the education system and health services to deteriorate, and has allowed poverty to run rampant. International sanctions have only had limited effects, as some neighboring countries continue to support the military. Peaceful anti-government demonstrations, in 1988 and in August and September 2007, have resulted in bloodshed. The leader of the pro-democracy movement, Aung San Suu Kyi, has effectively been under house arrest since 1990.

All this has taken a heavy toll on a nation of over 47 million people. Minority ethnic groups especially, have been the victims of mass human rights violations, forced migration, village burning, rape, torture, forced labor, and murder- either through shootings or landmines. Consequently, political dissidents and many tribes-people have become internally displaced, or have been given little choice but to leave their homes and escape Burma illegally into neighboring Bangladesh, India, and Thailand.

 In Thailand alone, there are more than 150,000 refugees- not including those who are unregistered (estimated to be over 1 million), or those who are migrant workers. Most spend days getting there by walking through dense jungle, riddled with landmines. Refugees live in cramped and squalid conditions in overcrowded camps on the Thai-Burma border. Mae La Refugee Camp for example, which sits in a valley just 8km from Burma, has an estimated 12,000 refugees, many facing the threat of deportation. Some become involved in the black market, or do menial jobs to get by. Still others have helped set up medical centers like that of Cynthia Maung’s Clinic, which provides treatment for refugees with various diseases, and landmine injuries. 

Access to refugee camps is restricted, so there has been little media coverage. Even if conditions on both sides of the border have been publicized enough to encourage international condemnation, little is being done to alleviate the plight of the Burmese. Their future appears to be grim- grim enough to make most wonder how much more they will have to endure- and how long the refugees will have to wait.


1 Comment »

  1. I wish I could travel as much as you have. My first trip outside my country by myself didn’t go as planned, but it was still a learning experience nevertheless. You have wonderful works and more importantly, an intimate understanding of your subjects. I admire that and it is something I hope to achieve myself as I try to grow as a photographer. Stumbled upon your blog through Paolo by the way. Wishing you all the best!

    Comment by John — September 13, 2008 @ 4:37 am

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