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Life Along the Border

Jennifer Roberts | Thailand

Two members of Royal Thai Army follow a public bus in Northern Thailand. Official refugees from Myanmar are not permitted to leave their camps, while other migrant workers and those without official status are not permitted to leave their villages. The Thai military frequently pull over public buses and set up check-points.

Fleeing their government’s widespread use of forced labor, forced military service, arbitrary detention, torture and killing, groups of people from Myanmar are left both internally displaced and in neighbouring Thailand.

The nine official UNHCR refugee camps in Thailand are home to roughly 92,000 registered refugees from Myanmar. An estimated 54,000 additional unregistered asylum seekers live both in the camps and in surrounding villages.

The refugee camps began opening in the 1980s, making the refugee situation in Thailand one of the longest running of it's kind in the world. Most official refugees are not warranted to leave their camps, while others are permitted little or no mobility from their villages. Despite their difficult situation, thousands of displaced individuals from Myanmar quietly prevail, resolutely going about their daily lives.

I first became interested the conflicts along the Thailand-Myanmar border while I was a university student, volunteering at the Baan Unrak Children’s Village in Sangkhlaburi, Thailand. I taught an English class to both a group of mothers and a group of teenage boys from Myanmar. They lived and studied at the orphanage, in exchange for doing cooking and maintenance work.
Many years later as a professional photographer I returned to Thailand and this time volunteered at the Ban Nai Soi Community Centre, a school and home for youth refugees from Myanmar. In addition to teaching, I was able to travel home with many of the students, visiting their families in neighbouring communities and camps in rural areas of Northern Thailand. I then independently travelled along the Thai-Myanmar border visiting villages, schools, hospitals and orphanages.

I can't speak for any individual or claim to have a comprehensive understanding of their life exeriences but for me it was inspirational to repeatedly meet people living their lives with hope and joy, despite their difficult situations.

Ban Nai Soi Community Centre, Thailand 

Jennifer Roberts




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