Photographers' Blog

Voices of Myanmar refugees

June 6, 2012

By Damir Sagolj

“It was raining for days before she came, then rain stopped. She has super powers,” Poe Suter Toe, an ethnic Karen refugee said. Indeed, the monsoon rain started again the moment Aung San Suu Kyi left Mae La, the biggest refugee camp at the Thailand-Myanmar border. Its 50,000 people, refugees from all across the country, better known as Burma, remain behind razor wire surrounding the camp in mountains.

A day after, I crossed inside the camp one more time to ask people about Mother Suu’s visit. What do they think about it? Can she change the country? Can she help them?

SLIDESHOW: VOICES OF MYANMAR REFUGEES

As expected, I heard many different opinions; from no hope to big hope, from “she is my inspiration” to “she can’t do anything”, from fears of another “failed revolution” to excitement that the misery of these poor people could be coming to its end. Many were just being very cautious about their expectations.

Aung San Suu Kyi or Mother Suu, as her people call her, does not walk on water and does not make miracles, yet. She just re-joined the political scene in Myanmar and traveled out of her country for the first time in 24 years; fifteen of which she spent in detention under the junta.

SLIDESHOW: MYANMAR VOTES

Below are some portraits and words from refugees I interviewed at Mae La. They come from different states of Myanmar, are of different ethnicity and different religions. But, they all share the same destiny of refugees who escaped the repression and poverty of the country I hope Mother Suu will help change.

Refugees from Myanmar U Aunt Khaing, ethnic Burmese, his ethnic Karen wife Mi Mi U and their daughter pose for a photo at the doors of their home at the Mae La refugee camp near Mae Sot June 3, 2012. Asked about Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to their camp U Aunt Khaing said “I have five reasons not to come back to Myanmar: no democracy, no human rights, no real justice, no guarantee to have good life. Even if she becomes the president, I don’t want to come back. I don’t believe Suu Kyi and Thein Sein – they are politicians. I want to go to another country to live.”

Zune Nwe Tun Oo, 17 year old refugee from Mandalay in Myanmar, looks through the window of her home at the Mae La refugee camp near Mae Sot June 3, 2012. Asked about Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to the camp Zune Nwe Tun Oo said “She is my inspiration. I spoke to her yesterday briefly and now I changed my mind – before I wanted to go to a third country, get education and have a big house. Now, I want to come back after my education. I want to go back. My people need me.”

Wailin Aung, 24 year old ethnic Karen refugee, is seen through the gate of a home at the Mae La refugee camp near Mae Sot June 3, 2012. Asked about Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to the camp Wailin Aung said “I don’t understand politics but I don’t want to go back to Myanmar. Never.”

Poe Suter Toe, an ethnic Karen refugee from Mandalay in Myanmar stands between fences at the Mae La refugee camp near Mae Sot June 3, 2012. Asked about Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to the camp Poe Suter Toe said “I didn’t sleep for one week because of excitement and then I saw her for five seconds. I think she has super-powers. When you see her face you lose words. The rain stopped while she was here. But, she is not God, she can’t change Myanmar.”

Abdul Rahman, 41 year old Rakhin Muslim refugee, sells vegetables in front of a school at the Mae La refugee camp near Mae Sot June 3, 2012. Asked about Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to the camp Abdul Rahman said “I really like Suu Kyi but she can’t make the change in the country because the army is stupid. Army will never change. It is only talk now, no action. Only mouth talk.”

U Mon Gyit, a 35 year old Muslim Burmese refugee, is reflected in the mirror at his food shop at the Mae La refugee camp near Mae Sot June 3, 2012. Asked about Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to the camp U Mon Gyit said “I saw her yesterday. We are only small people, we don’t know can she make changes or not. But, even if she becomes the president I will still watch situation for years before deciding to go back.”

Wa Ha, an 82-year-old Muslim Burmese refugee, carries food at the Mae La refugee camp near Mae Sot June 3, 2012. Asked about Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to the camp Wa Ha said “I like her and I have hope in her but not sure if she can change anything for me. I’m too old and I just want to die here. Life and death are better here in the camp than in Myanmar.”

U Tin Saung, his wife Myint Myint Yee and their son Kyao Pauk, refugees from Yangon in Myanmar, pose for a photo under the “hope” sign at their home at the Mae La refugee camp near Mae Sot June 3, 2012. Asked about Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to the camp U Tin Saung said “There is no hope for Myanmar. Only hope for our souls. I think military will not allow Suu Kyi to have power and will make coup. Then they will be more cruel.”

Thu Said Ta, 26 year old Buddhist Monk passes time at the monastery at the Mae La refugee camp near Mae Sot June 3, 2012. Asked about Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to the camp Thu Said said “She is good, she brought hope and can bring changes but not sure what. I will go back if education and economic situation improves.”

Munane, 90 year old ethnic Karen refugee, who begs for rice for herself and her disabled granddaughter after her parents died sits inside a home at the Mae La refugee camp near Mae Sot June 3, 2012. Asked about Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to the camp Munane said “If I’m younger I would go back to Myanmar. I believe Suu Kyi can change the country.”

Naw Lah Htoo (C), 40 year old ethnic Karen refugee sells vegetables at the Mae La refugee camp near Mae Sot June 3, 2012. Asked about Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to the camp Naw Lah Htoo said “I love Suu Kyi and I love my country but I never want to come back. I don’t know anything about politics and I just want to stay here.”

Ethnic Karen refugees Yae Min Sein, his wife Mu Lao Cheing and their children Meo Chit Oo (L) and Kyae San Win pose for picture outside the hospital at the Mae La refugee camp near Mae Sot June 3, 2012. Asked about Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to the camp Yae Min Sein said “I saw her yesterday. She can’t do much alone. In the future, only if other countries help Myanmar will change to better.”

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