About the Author: Adam Zerbinopoulos serves as the Deputy Refugee Coordinator at the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok.
Last summer, thirteen Burmese ethnic minority refugees were each given a disposable camera and a simple request: document the people, places and events that make up your life. The participants represent the diversity of Mae La, Thailand’s largest refugee camp: they are men and women from different religious and ethnic groups, with different ages and educational backgrounds and different experiences of life outside of camp. Though many had never used a camera before, all produced vivid, engrossing scenes of camp life.
The pictures show people at work and play. There are people studying, worshiping, eating, relaxing and mugging for the camera. Some of the photographers focused on family life; others dwelled on natural scenery and their physical environment. One showed off her weaving and handicrafts while another chronicled his voyage through the process of resettling to the United States. Occasionally the quotidian scenes are punctuated by scars or barbed wire, reminders of difficult realities that are never far from the surface of refugees’ lives.
The State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, through implementing partners like the International Rescue Committee and American Refugee Committee, funds a variety of assistance programs benefitting the residents of Mae La and eight other camps along the Thai-Burma border. These programs provide vital food and nutritional support, medical care and other necessities. In addition to this material assistance, resettlement to America has provided a durable solution to tens of thousands who have suffered terrible oppression in their native Burma.
To see more of these remarkable photographs and learn about U.S. humanitarian assistance to refugees and migrants, please visit the photo gallery of Embassy Bangkok’s Refugee and Migration Affairs section.