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Photo Essay | Crisis in Myanmar : New Frame

Photo Essay | Crisis in Myanmar

Despite elections, democracy in Myanmar is under threat, with hundreds of thousands displaced internally and to neighbouring countries.

Since Burma, now officially known as Myanmar, gained independence from Britain in 1948, minorities have been subject to sustained discrimination and oppression. In 1962 the country was subject to a brutal form of military rule. Hopes were raised for a transition from military rule when Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won the general elections in 2015. However the oppression of minorities, including massive displacements, has continued.

Alarmingly, however, Suu Kyi has not condemned the military for its brutal clearance campaign that forced hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims on the western border to flee to refugee camps in Bangladesh. Nor has she shown much interest in the welfare of displaced populations affected by fighting on Myanmar’s eastern border near China, which has increased in recent years. Fighting has also recently returned to Karen State, threatening a fragile ceasefire between the Karen and the military.

This photo essay offers a glimpse into the lives of those who have been uprooted, scattered and displaced within Myanmar and outside its borders.

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2008: Flanked by Karen National Liberation Army soldiers a child attends Revolution Day in Karen National Union headquarters in Karen State, Myanmar.
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2016: A military truck loaded with Myanmar Army soldiers in Karen State, Myanmar. Historic ceasefires with Karen armed groups, ending over six decades of fighting in Karen State, have not brought a permanent settlement to the conflict. 
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2014: Novice monks travel along the old Burma highway from Muse near the China border in northern Shan State. Since late 2016, the area has seen heavy fighting between the Myanmar Army and Northern Alliance.
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2017: Families are getting lost in the sprawling Rohingya refugee camps in southern Bangladesh. Sabor Hasson (right) lost his teenage sons for two days when they went to a different clinic for treatment than he had expected. Members of the Peace Builders, a new civil society group that formed in the camp, helped the distraught father look for his boys.
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2012: Child soldiers who deserted from the Myanmar Army are held in Laiza, headquarters of the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) located near the China border. The KIO’s military wing, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), has been fighting with the government since a seventeen-year ceasefire unraveled in 2011, the same year reforms were introduced. In this portrait the photographer asked the boys to cover their faces to protect their identities.
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2012: Kachin Independence Army female recruits rest in between drills in Laiza, Kachin State, Myanmar.
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2015: The night before a memorial service for slain soldiers killed by Myanmar Army troops, a Ta’ang National Liberation Army soldier chants a Buddhist mantra. Mandalay Region, Myanmar.
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2012: A Kachin Independence Army soldier holds landmines he made at a front-line army camp. Two weeks later he was killed when planting one. Mai Ja Yang, Kachin State, Myanmar.
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2012: A Kachin woman suffers from severe bleeding after giving birth in Mai Ja Yang, Kachin State, Myanmar. Later the woman was rushed to the hospital for treatment and released several days later. Fighting between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Myanmar Army near her village forced her family to flee to a refugee camp under KIA control.
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2017: A patient suspected of having diphtheria is treated at a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) clinic in Balu Khali refugee camp in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh. Cramped and unsanitary conditions in the camps have raised fear of a major epidemic for refugees that typically have not been vaccinated against disease.

Brennan O’Connor is a photographer based in Southeast Asia. He is currently working on a photo book on Myanmar’s ethnic groups.

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