Finding Freedom

This photo essay was submitted by Brennan O'Connor / NOMAD Photos.

Brennan O'Connor is the Southeast Asian adviser for The Peoples of the World and president of NOMAD Photos agency, a Canadian cooperative of photojournalists dedicated to using the economic efficiencies and social power of a collective to highlight under-reported social, political, health and environmental issues worldwide.

In 2005, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) began resettling thousands of Burmese ethnic minorities from Thai refugee camps to locations across the world. The UN referred to it in a report as "the world's largest resettlement operation." By the time it's completed in 2010, over 30 thousand people will be resettled across the world.

The majority of the approximate 140 thousand people who live in the nine camps along the Thai border are from the Karen tribe. Many of them started fleeing Myanmar after a major offensive between the KNU and the junta in 1995. These refugees, and the thousands who were born and have spent their entire lives in the camps, can't return to Burma without risk of imprisonment, torture or death. In the refugee camp they live in overcrowded, dangerous conditions without the ability to work or travel. In Mae La Oon their homes are built on steep hillsides which make them susceptible to landslides in the rainy seasons. There have also been reports of attacks by the Burmese military and proxy armies on some camps.

Everyday outside my apartment in Toronto, Canada, I hear Karen and Burmese children playing in the courtyard of the building next to mine. Their happy voices touch my heart but it also reminds me of what they left behind: the wars in Burma and the bleakness of the refugee camps.

The UNHCR resettlement project has allowed thousands of Karen and people of other Burmese ethnic groups to find freedom in UN countries across the world.

Brennan O'Connor
The Peoples of the World
NOMAD Photos

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