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.