Nupo Refugee Camp March 2010

For full details on the time spent in Nupo refugee camp please click HERE. Below is a short video documenting the former political prisoners photographed in the camp.

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Thailand Day 8: Nupo Refugee Camp – The Return

Click HERE to view all of the portraits of former political prisoners in Nupo refugee camp.

An early start for what will be a long day – or rather an intensive day as we have to try and wrap things up before the sun gets too high overhead and we’re left with nothing but shadows and highlights. Last night we had a meeting with many of the former political prisoners here in Nupo to learn more about their current precarious situation living in the camp and the ongoing disgraceful situation in regards to the UNHCR resettlement program. There is great fear amongst many here that they will be returned to Burma – all refugees that is – after the election. There are already noises being made from Thai authorities than suggest that this could be the case. Perhaps this goes some way in explaining why the USA has all cases currently on hold. So it’s an early start after sleeping in the camp last night and after morning coffee in the school’s coffee shop “Memento” we started with the portraits. Luckily a group of former political prisoners met us early at ESC school so we started looking for suitable backdrops around the school.

First up were Myint Oo (5 years in Insein, Bago and Taungoo prisons), Kyaw Han (3 years in Sittwe prison) and Zaw Win Naing (4 years in Myeik prison). The day is almost a race against the clock as we have to get the last line car out of Nupo at about 3pm or we get stuck here (no bad thing in my book) but with a tight schedule we cant afford any more slip ups like yesterday. Also it’s a race against the sun – in fact the whole thing is one continual race around everywhere, tracking people down, trying not to draw too much attention to yourself – it’s a total challenge that is impossible to do without the ever present help of Thiha and of course the Secretary-General Jacquelin San who as well as being on interview duty and translation is also filming everything – and she’s getting very good at it to!

First ones in the can (as they say) and we spend the next few hours trekking across Nupo camp starting in Section 16 where all POCs are living. It’s a cramped section of the camp in comparison to almost all other areas – another hardship faced by former political prisoners and their associates – conditions also vary across the camp depending on the usual things in life – how how much money you have and who you know. The portraits keep coming thick and fast – first up my good friend Ma Khin Cho Myint @ Zulu who was photographed for the 3rd time (the previous two political prisoners had been released so she now is known by everyone as having the lucky hand!). She was jailed for 6 years in Insein and Moulmein prisons. Zulu has been the main organiser here in Nupo so a massive thanks to her for making today come together so well. Making our way swiftly through Section 16 we pick up quite a crowd along the way, one by one having their portrait taken as we desperately try to quickly find differing yet most importantly interesting backgrounds to be able to take the portraits – Kyaw Win Swe (7 years in Insein and Mandalay prisons), Kyi Toe (3 years in Insein and Tharawaddy prisons), Kyaw Zaw (11 years in Insein and Kalay prisons), Su Su Win (8 years in Insein prison), Kyaw Tint Oo (2 years in Maubin prison), Win Hlaing (6 years in Insein and Thayet prisons), Yu Yu Hlaing (1 year in Myant prison) and her husband Soe Moe (6 years in Dawei prison). We also had time in passing to catch up with Lwin Lwin Myint (U Gambira’s sister) who with her husband were busy building their new house.

Heading across towards the monastery on the other side of the camp we take a detour to the graveyard where two former political prisoners who died whilst in the camp are buried. U Than Myint (who’s wife and child we met and photographed – see above) passed away on 23rd January 2009 aged 52. He was a member of the NLD and BPPU. Unfortunately I never had the chance to meet him but when I visited in July last year I met Myo Khin. He had been jailed for 7 years in Insein and Tharawaddy prison and he was suffering form bad health coupled with no home in the camp – his life was one of extreme hardship and makes you seriously reflect on everything you have in comparison. He died on 15th December 2009 aged 53. He was a member of the NLD and BPPU. I was very sad to hear that he had passed away in  of liver failure amongst other serious health problems. Both men had gravestones in the rundown graveyard of Nupo camp – it was a true moment of reflection and sadness. Our final stop was over at the monastery to photograph U Aubar before making our way back through the wide open boulevards (in comparison!) of the Karen section of the camp to ESC Nupo for a final meal and well earned rest before catching the line car back to Umphang. Yet another brief but totally exhausting and truely rewarding time spent in Nupo camp. I thank you all for everything that you did and hope that in turn we can in some way help with your current situation. God knows we’ll try.

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Thailand Day 12: Nu Po Refugee Camp

Six hours drive south of Mae Sot lies Nu Po refugee camp. Noh Poe as it is also often called, means “small lake” in Karen and is home to almost 15,000 people who have fled their native Burma. Many former political prisoners are sent here when they escape across the border in Thailand and the most of the refugees in the POC/PAB sector are political activists who have been involved in the democracy movement since 1988.

Thanks to my good friends at ESC Nupo I managed to photograph almost 30 former political prisoners whilst here. The total now photographed for the project is up to 76. All images are available for viewing here. My personal connections with Nu Po go back several years due to a friendship established with John Glenn, a former political prisoner and founding member of the English Speaking Course (ESC Nupo). The school was formed in 2007 out of the huge demand for English classes in particular for adults. The programme relies almost solely upon private donations and funds that can be raised by those who work and live there. Foreign teachers have been recruited and an incredible school building that contains classrooms, a computer room, sleeping quarters, school office and much more. It is a truly remarkable place, run by truly remarkable people – a real home from home. Pictured here is Ma Lwin Lwin Myint, younger sister of U Ashin Gambira the prominent monk and leader of the Saffron Revolution in 2007. Since her brother was detained in 2007 and due to his high profile activism, Ma Lwin and all of her family members have suffered continual harassment and persecution from the military junta and its thugs in the USDA and Swan Arr Shin. Many of them have been subsequently detained and jailed but she managed to evade capture.
Along with her husband, Ko Lu Maw Naing, she played a prominent role in delivering aid and providing assistance to victims of Cyclone Nargis in the Irrawaddy Delta. This was the final straw for the junta who literally put out a warrant for her arrest. She fled to the border with her husband in 2008 and they are currently living in Nu Po refugee camp and studying at ESC Nupo. Her brother U Gambira was sentenced in November 2008 to 65 years imprisonment and in january 2009 was transfered to the remote Khandee prison in Sagaing Division. Ma Lwin told me that despite suffering torture and persecution as a political prisoner in jail, her brother is in good health and above all in good spirits. Both Ma Lwin and Ko Maw are journalists for the Burma Student Post which is produced by ESC Nupo and to which I am very proud to be the sponsor.

Below are a selection of former political prisoners photographed in Nu Po camp – visit ENIGMA IMAGES website to see all 24.

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