Mae La refugee camp is about 3.5 kilometres from the border with Burma. From the camp to Mae Sot, a Thai border town, the distance is about 50km. The camp is about 5 kilometres long and less than 1 kilometre in width. Inside the camp 40,000 “registered” refugees live. The reality is that more than 80,000 people live in Maela refugee camp.
Two Thai army checkpoints are on both sides of the camp, along the road. Small red cars pass picking people up every hour. Once at the checkpoint many Burmese are caught by the army. Those who try to leave the camp without permission are put in prison. Some are taken back to the camp, others to Burma. It is not legal to take pictures of the camp, nor of the refugees. The Thai army are on all the main roads. So the only way to cover such a social problem is to go inside illegally. The checkpoints are all over the border with Burma. On the road from Mae Sot to Bangkok there are at least 8 Thai army checkpoints and many Burmese who are without papers are captured.
Mae La refugee camp is one of seven camps that are based along the border with Burma. All the houses are made from wood, bamboo and leaves. Walking along the camp takes about 40 minutes.
A young guy, who was selling fruit at the camp, took me into Mae La. The reality that refugees are facing is cruel. It is a prison. Nobody is allowed to leave the camp. The Thai government will provide permission to leave the camp for a maximum of three days only. Corruption is all over the place. It is easy to see how poor and needy people are maintaining the rich class. Refugee camps are one of the favoured places for organised crime. It is literally a market for human trafficking. In the north of Thailand 90% of sex workers are from Burma. Mae Sot, the closest town to the camp, is a market for guns, drugs and human beings. There is no employment, the education is poor and it is better not to even mention the health system. It is a town with a tragic past and without a future. Everybody is waiting for a change in Burma in order to go back home.
Most of the refugees have been forced to flee their homes in Burma because of the violence caused by the Government of Myanmar. Mae La has been there for more than 25 years.
Writing by: Andy VC
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