Myanmar refugees take shelter in Thailand’s Mae Sot


Sanjay, a 23-year-old from Myanmar, and eight others are hiding in a bamboo and leaf-thatch shelter in a sugarcane field in Mae Sot, Thailand. They fled conscription in Myanmar and now live with ducks, chickens, and goats. Sanjay feels safe here, unlike in Myanmar, where he feared being forced into the army.

Across a narrow river, tens of thousands have fled Myanmar since the 2021 military coup, seeking safety in Mae Sot. Many are young men avoiding conscription imposed by Myanmar’s military rulers. Mae Sot is now a refuge for Burmese fleeing the conflict. It feels like Cold War Berlin, full of exiles planning revolution and waiting for asylum offers.

Sanjay’s life changed after the coup when his father was jailed for helping the resistance. His call-up papers made him flee to Thailand with his mother’s help. Mae Sot is now a town of safehouses, both well-established and improvised, accommodating mostly undocumented refugees.

Life in Mae Sot is challenging. Wages are low, and refugees lack official protection. Many face mental health challenges due to stress and depression. Some even resort to drugs or alcohol. Sanjay plans to return to Myanmar to fight, but others struggle to find their role in the conflict.

Thailand must prepare for more refugees as Myanmar’s military regime weakens. The fighting in Myawaddy has brought Thai military presence to Mae Sot. Despite the conflict, newcomers in Mae Sot feel relieved to have escaped Myanmar. They worry about education for their children but are grateful for the safety and peace they have found.


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