Thailand: my journey from Burma
23 April 2012

Ma Yu wears the Burmese traditional organic sun cream, Thanaka, while she works every day. Photo by Patcharin Nawichai/JRS Thailand
In Mae Sot there is more freedom than in Myanmar, but my life would be happier if I could travel freely. Running and hiding from the police is a kind of adventure for me when I go to the central market.
Mae Sot, 20 April, 2012 – I am 45. I lived in Tar Kay and ran a small fruit and vegetable shop in Yangon. I could not make any profit because the local authorities regularly asked for money, so I decided to cross the border into Mae Sot district in 1996 to find other opportunities. 

The journey from Yangon to Maw Lang Ein took a day by public bus. Then I had to take a boat to Hpa-An, where I caught the public bus to Myawaddy. There were five checkpoints, and I had to pay 200 kyat at each. At the last checkpoint the authorities suspected I would go to Mae Sot to become a prostitute. I had to show all my documents to prove that I am over 25. When walking across the bridge from Myawaddy to Mae Sot, I was hopeful for a better life.

I became a worker at a garment factory. I could earn 2,500-3,000 baht per month but after food and accommodation deductions I had 1,500 baht left. In 1999 I was arrested and deported back to Myawaddy when police began a crackdown on illegal migrant workers. 
I was lucky again because I was brought back by the factory owner. Later I found another job as a housemaid with a couple who ran an alcoholic beverage shop. I got 1,500 baht per month. 

In 2000, the wife was seriously sick and before she died she asked me to take care of her husband, whom I called ‘’dad’’. I have to look after him and to pay for his medical treatment because I feel that he is part of my family. 

Currently I work as a cleaner at five places. Each month I get around 4,600 baht but it is not enough for my family. I take care of four kids, my previous landlord and myself. It is quite a burden for me but I’m happy to be with them.

In Mae Sot there is more freedom than in Myanmar, but my life would be happier if I could travel freely. Running and hiding from the police is a kind of adventure for me when I go to the central market. What worries me most is illness. If I get sick, no one will take care of my dependents.

Being a woman leaves you vulnerable to sexual harassment. As a widow, I am always teased by other men. This makes me worry about my safety. If I had proper documents and legal status, I could go anywhere I want.