The people of the Mae Sot dump site

March 1, 2011


LONDON (AlertNet) – The poignant story of Myanmar’s refugees living in and around a putrid rubbish dump on the Thai border town of Mae Sot speaks volumes about the resilience of human nature.

Despite the poverty, health risks and harassment they face from the Thai authorities on a constant basis, many refugee families have lived at the site for years, struggling to earn minuscule wages for the plastic they collect for recycling.

“Every human rights violation on the planet is there in its worse element,” Reuters photographer Damir Sagolj told me in a phone interview.

“However, these people on the dump site are actually happy because they know what they have left behind in Burma (Myanmar) is much worse,” he added.

For more than five decades, Myanmar has suffered conflict between the repressive ruling military regime, political opponents and ethnic groups, resulting in the displacement of over 3.5 million Burmese.

The exact number of Burmese living in and around the town of Mae Sot ( known locally as “little Burma”) is unclear but aid groups estimate the number could be some 200,000, most of them are illegal refugees.

There are three main camps around Mae Sot – Mae La, Noe Po and Umpium with Mae La being the biggest refugee camp in Southeast Asia.

According to Sagolj, who frequently returns to Mae Sot to document life there, the situation on the dump site has improved quite a lot recently. It’s mostly thanks to the work of an organisation founded by Buddhist monks called “The Best Friend”, which has succeeded in moving families from the site to land it has rented for them in the surrounding area.

“Every time I go there (Mae Sot dump), I see people smiling. At night, they light candles and sing, they eat and socialise and basically look the fun side of life,” Sagolj said.

“Nobody forced them to live there but they don’t want to go home.”


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