Mae Sot: Little Burma
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Thursday, June 30, 2022


Mae Sot: Little Burma

By The Irrawaddy MAY, 1999 - VOLUME 7 NO.4

An international symposium on migration in Asia was recently held in Bangkok. Burma sent a delegation led by Deputy Foreign Minister U Khin Maung Win. Independent analysts and NGOs estimate that there are one million Burmese illegally working and living in Thailand. However, Thai officials put the figure at 800,000. Human rights groups and international labor unions state that most of the Burmese migrants in Thailand have fled the country because of political persecution. But the Burmese delegation said 95 per cent of people had left Burma for economic reasons. “A Karen man I met in southern Thailand working at a fishing company told me that he was forced to leave his home because the army came and burned his village and his home. So he fled and came here to find a job to survive,” said one human rights worker. Junta officials urged Burmese workers in Thailand to return to help in the agricultural and industrial development of their country, promising that they would not face persecution. “Whenever they want to go back they can always go back because they have their homes and families in our country. Let me assure you, we will not take action against them,” Khin Maung Win said. In Shan and Karen states, however, many returnees have been punished. Analysts say that unless there is a political settlement to restore democracy in Burma, the Burmese people will continue to flee the country and scatter across Southeast Asia. The 0Irrawdddy recently made a trip to Mae Sot to find out about one of the largest Burmese communities outside of Burma. Many Burmese women from central Burma, Moulmein, Pegu and Karen state have come to work in the border town of Mae Sot. "We earn more than we used to get in Burma. We can save money," said one woman from Pegu. Some used to work in Chinese-run factories in Pegu, but they complained that their salary was very low. Until recently, it was unusual for young Burmese women to seek jobs in other provinces or neighboring countries. However, due to economic hardships, it is becoming more common. More and more female college students are leaving Burma to find odd jobs as schools and universities have been closed for most of the past decade. An antique shop in Mae Sot Statues, furniture, works of calligraphy—you name it, you’ll find it here. Burma's artistic treasures are more likely to be found in antique shops from Mae Sot to London than in Burmese temples, homes, or museums. Local authorities in Burma turn a blind eye to this illegal trade in exchange for “tea money”. But don't think everything displayed in these shops is an antique. According to one antique trader in Mae Sot, “We copy old statues to make new ones. We keep them in the water or under the earth for years. Then we unearth them and bring them over here to sell as antiques.” They receive handsome sums of money for these fakes. A book shop in Mae Sot Burmese in Mae Sot gather at a bookshop to buy or rent Burma’s latest publications and magazines. Opposition bulletins and newsletters are also available in some bookshops run by former activists. They say military intelligence agents and informers from Myawaddy often visit their shops to collect materials that are critical of Rangoon. Burmese patients at Dr. Cynthia’s Clinic Over the past three years, more and more Burmese from Myawaddy and other border towns and villages have been coming to Mae Sot for medical treatment. Many of Dr. Cynthia’s patients complain that there is a severe shortage of medicines in hospitals in Burma, particularly in border areas, where only the rich and well-connected have access to medical treatment. Dr. Cynthia, who left Burma soon after the military took power in 1988, said that growing numbers of Burmese seeking odd jobs in Mae Sot are also coming to her clinic. “Once they are sick they don't know where to go,” she said, adding that Aids and abortion cases amongst Burmese migrant workers in Mae Sot have been increasing recently.

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