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MYANMAR REFUGEES

The issue of refugees from Myanmar (Burma) is hitting the headlines from Thailand to Australia. This is a collaborative project - include the tag MYANMAR REFUGEES.

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Crossing Burma's 'Smugglers Gate'

Feature. Burmese migrants on the Thai/Burma border near Mae Sot crossing the Moei river illegally in inner tubes and other boats to Thailand to access proper health care, the border is also home to sm

This is a photo essay that was not planned when I traveled to the border town of Mae Sot in Thailand.
The main reason for heading there was to take photos and interview the staff at the Mae Tao clinic.
The clinic is famous for assisting the large Burmese population who are coming across the border seeking medical treatment.

I showed up in the middle of a rain storm on the back of a motorcycle taxi, clutching 500 Thai Baht.
I was ready to pay for the one day pass to enter Burma from Burmese immigration officials.

The official pass was then scribbled on a piece of paper.
The paper or "pass" allows you to enter Burma for one day though you must make it back to the Thai border by 5pm.

With pass in hand, I moved towards the check point and across the Friendship Bridge, free to proceed to the town of Maywaddy, in Burma. The sole intention was to take some snapshots and purchase a Buddha for my brother, but I soon found there was more going on here than some vendors selling souvenirs to tourist.

I quickly met up with a Burmese gentleman after passing through immigration. He would act as my guide in the area that is sometimes known as a "no mans land".

Some of the activities that take place here are already well known, like human trafficking and drug smuggling, but there are some unknown activities that I learned about such as the large clothing factory that utilizes Burmese migrant laborers, and a stolen car ring from Thailand which operates in the area transporting cars across the river at night.

Another danger factor is the never-ending insurgency fought by the Karen people against the military regime in Burma. While walking with my Burmese contact I observed some of these illegal activities from a concrete walkway on the Thai side of the river, and here it became clear to me that there is an alternate economy which is the real driving force behind the border trade.

As I strolled down the concrete walkway I was offered Viagra or what is propertied to be Viagra as well as any manner of drugs you can literally get anything down by the river. My Burmese contact took me to what he described, as the "Smugglers Gate", a series of areas where merchandise is illegally shipped across the river.

Trucks on the Thai side pull up and unload goods to boats that ferry them across the river to Burma.

I also witnessed the same operation-taking place on the Burmese side. I saw shipments of Salt, Detergent, Rice, Onions, and Bicycles from Japan, alcohol from Thailand and television sets from Korea. My contact told me that anything could be hidden in these shipments for example drugs. What was even more surreal is the fact that people are crossing the Moei River in full view of the Thai boarder patrol and Burmese immigration officials.

Burmese migrants from Myawaddy were crossing in inner tubes every day with out passing though immigration on the Thai side. And it appeared that when they crossed from Thailand they had to pay off the Burmese police once they disembarked on the Burmese side of the river.

My contact said that Burmese who are crossing, do on occasion fall off the inner tubes, and in some cases drown due to the swift current of the river. I was told that some of the main reasons people are risking their lives is for work or to attend school as well as visit their relative's on the Thai side, but also for the Mae Tao clinic were they can receive decent health care.

The impression I came away with from this trip to the border was that the line on the map dividing Thailand and Burma often appeared totally invisible.

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Please note: the text contained in "Myanmar Refugees" has not been corrected, edited or verified by Demotix and is the raw text submitted by the photojournalist. All views and opinions expressed are that of the independent photojournalist and do not represent the views of Demotix Ltd. These details have been included in order to provide as much information as possible to the Media buyer.

Saving Lives at The Mae Tao Medical Clinic

Feature. The Mae Tao clinic, near Mae Sot, Thailand, and its staff and patients. The clinic assists thousands of Burmese migrants a year. 07/23/2009

Dr. Cynthia Maung founded the Mae Tao Clinic to assist Burmese migrants and those who make the perilous journey from Burma, where the heath care system is near collapse. Mae Tao is quite an amazing place, the clinic assists thousands of Burmese patients a year with the help of some inspiring volunteers and staff.
Another critical aspect of the clinic's work is it's training program for nurses, and community health workers.
This program provides care for patients of the Clinic, and valuable training for the staff, who in turn become medical professionals that service their community.

Furthermore Mae Tao has backpack medical teams trained which operate inside Burma.
There is also a great preventive heath education program for mothers and children based at the clinic.
While visiting Mae Tao I was very impressed with the staff and generosity of the Burmese patients who allowed me to take their photos.
This experience was very moving, since I had the chance to ask questions through an interpreter who was also a staff member.
I soon found out how these Burmese patients were able make it to the clinic, as well as the medical conditions they suffered from . I learned about their struggle to survive in a country that has one of the worst health care systems in the world.
Many of the patients I met were from the Karen ethnic group. Unfortunately the Karen are trying to survive against insurmountable odds.
The Burmese regimes relentless military campaign against their people amounts to ethnic cleansing.
The Karen have been fighting for independence since 1948 in what is one of the longest civil wars in the world.

But the one memory that is burned into my mind from this visit is the day I went into the trauma ward and talked to a young monk who had an infected bullet wound on his foot.
I introduced myself and asked his name and how he had come to this clinic.
I remember his eyes were dead and his facial expression was distant.
Two days later I checked in to see how he was doing.
I found him weak from surgery he brushed aside his red robes to show me what remained of his leg.
The doctors had to amputate his leg below the knee , because of infection from the old bullet wound.

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Please note: the text contained in "Myanmar Refugees" has not been corrected, edited or verified by Demotix and is the raw text submitted by the photojournalist. All views and opinions expressed are that of the independent photojournalist and do not represent the views of Demotix Ltd. These details have been included in order to provide as much information as possible to the Media buyer.

Waiting to be Registered

Thousands of unregistered Rohingya refugees living in the Kutupalong makeshift camp are being forcibly displaced from their homes in an act of intimidation and abuse by the local authorities. Teknuf, Bangladesh. 07/07/2009.

The Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority originating from Myanmar, are denied citizenship and suffer persecution and discrimination in Myanmar. Hundreds of thousands have fled to Bangladesh and Thailand.
Thousands of unregistered Rohingya refugees living in the Kutupalong makeshift camp, Bangladesh, are being forcibly displaced from their homes in an act of intimidation and abuse by the local authorities.
To date, an estimated 25,000 people have flocked to the Kutupalong makeshift camp hoping for recognition and assistance. Instead of finding help, they have been told that they cannot live next to the official camp, supported by the Bangladesh Government and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, nor can they legally live on adjacent Forestry Department land. They have nowhere to go and no way to meet their basic needs.
Denied citizenship in Myanmar, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled their homes to seek refuge abroad. Few have been granted refugee status. The majority struggle to survive, unrecognized and unassisted in countries such as Bangladesh and Thailand.

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Please note: the text contained in "Myanmar Refugees" has not been corrected, edited or verified by Demotix and is the raw text submitted by the photojournalist. All views and opinions expressed are that of the independent photojournalist and do not represent the views of Demotix Ltd. These details have been included in order to provide as much information as possible to the Media buyer.

Mae Tao Clinic, Mae Sot, Thailand

Emergency medical clinic on the Thai-Burma border

In western Thailand the town of Mae Sot, on the border with Burma, illegal migrants and refuges visit the Mae Tao Clinic to seek medical treatment that they could not hope to receive in their own country. The clinic was set up twenty years ago to serve the needs of the countless people who cross the river between the two countries, often at great personal risk. Landmine victims, malaria sufferers, expectant mothers and those who have been wounded in the endless conflict between the Burmese Army and the various ethnic regions, especially in Karen State, that has raged for several decades, all find their way to Mae Tao on the edge of the dusty frontier town These photographs were made on a visit in early May, just before the start of the monsoon (and malaria) season.

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Please note: the text contained in "Myanmar Refugees" has not been corrected, edited or verified by Demotix and is the raw text submitted by the photojournalist. All views and opinions expressed are that of the independent photojournalist and do not represent the views of Demotix Ltd. These details have been included in order to provide as much information as possible to the Media buyer.

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