Life on the Border: The Karen People of Burma
The town of Mae Sot, Thailand lays along the eastern bank of the Moei River, an eight-hour overnight bus journey from Bangkok. Across the Moei from Mae Sot is the military-controlled country of Burma, and the"Friendship Bridge" which spans the river at Mae Sot makes the town an important point for anyone wishing to cross between the two countries. But there is more to this remote border town than first meets the eye. Besides the shops that line the streets and back alleys of Mae Sot, there is also a large, but almost invisible world: that of the Karen People.
The Karen, whose state lies just within Burma across the Moei River from Mae Sot, have been fighting a civil was against the Burmese military junta for control of their areas since 1948. But this continuous warfare has come with a very high price for the Karen People: an uncountable number of dead and wounded, the destruction of countless Karen villages as the Burmese junta tries to put down the Karen, and hundreds of thousands of Karen refugees streaming across the Moei river into Thailand to escape the fighting.
When they arrive in Thailand, the refugees have two options. They can choose to live legally in the various overcrowded UNHCR refugee camps. Or they can risk staying illegally, where they are forced to fight constant battles to hide from the Thai authorities who will deport them if caught, and unscrupulous employers who try to exploit them because of their status as unregistered aliens.
I photographed in and around the town of Mae Sot during February and March of 2006. I had originally planned to focus my work on the Mae TaoClinic, which is run by Dr. Cynthia Maung. Dr Cynthia, a Burmese refugee herself and a Nobel Prize Nominee, runs the clinic to care for her fellow countrymen who have also fled their homeland.
But upon my arrival, with help from my guide and translator, Maung Maung Tinn, I expanded my project to photograph not only the clinic but also the lives of the Karen refugees in and around Mae Sot.