Friday, September 16, 2005

Land of survival

Think of Burma, and the image most likely to come to mind is one of military rule and oppression. The country, now officially known as Myanmar, has for decades been a cauldron of human rights abuses and armed conflict.

Hope came to Burma when the opposition party of future Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi won an overwhelming victory in 1990's parliamentary elections, but those hopes were dashed when the ruling military junta refused to recognize the results. Not even Aung San Suu Kyi's Peace Prize in 1991 or continued international pressure has been able to change that harsh political reality.

Since that time, thousands of Burmese refugees, particularly those from the beleaguered Karen minority, have risked their lives to make their way across the Thai-Myanmar border in search of a better life. The oppressive conditions many of them have experienced back home, including torture, rape, and murder, mean they cannot go back until the military junta is gone. Even if they chose to risk their lives amidst the on-going struggle between Karen rebels and government troops, they might find that their homes and other property are gone.

And this is why they have no choice but to live in a state of political, economic, and social limbo in the border region around Mae-Sot. This Thai border town is no paradise, but it is a safe haven for the thousands of Burmese refugees who can't go home. This touching documentary focuses on the human story behind this geopolitical nightmare.

Many of the refugees are restricted even in Thailand. Work permits are tough to get, and even if one has money, basic daily needs are often hard to come by. Social misery is not uncommon in a place where unemployed men wile away the time with no job prospects and sick children wait to receive scarce medical treatment.

"Land of Survival" gives the viewer a taste of the perplexing dilemma in which these refugees find themselves. How long will they be forced to live in these conditions? Months pass into years, and years threaten to stretch into decades. Children are being born who know nothing but life in the Mae-Sot refugee camps. What will become of them? What will become of Burma's future?

This is the synopsis for a documentary I helped translate from Korean into English. The documentary, a very sad one, was the opening piece at our mom-and-pop network's documentary film festival recently.

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