Stories written by Paul Greening

Myanmar Refugees Build Schools, Cafes and Hope in Mae Sot


 
The typical image of a refugee is a poor person with their hands out asking for aid. The Burmese refugees in Mae Sot on the Thai-Myanmar border defy that stereotype. Many are middle-class, educated urbanites with skills and plenty of initiative. After standing up to the Burmese military and suffering for it, they left everything and fled for their lives to Mae Sot where they continued their struggle. Despite intimidation, exploitation by some Thai authorities, and living in fear without documentation, they have achieved a lot in under two years. Their purpose is to support their community and the revolution in a variety of ways through their resilience, commitment, ability and innovation. Some refugees have set up businesses such as cafes, restaurants, bars, shops, hairdressers, a farm and cross-border trade. While they are for-profit, they also provide employment for other refugees and donate to the most vulnerable. One café owner said, “If I am lucky, I break even but the café gives refugees employment, keeps them occupied and is a place where Burmese can meet and relax.” [caption id="attachment_183577" align="alignleft" width="630"]Paul Greening is an ex-UN senior staff officer with over 20 years of experience in six Asian countries working for six UN agencies and four INGOs. He worked in Sittwe, Rakhine State for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) from 2017 to 2020 and has been living in Mae Sot for two years. First published by Myanmar news outlet Irrawady

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