I’m from the UK, more specifically, a small city sitting on the edge of the England/Wales border. I grew with finding it no big deal to cross into neighboring countries, in fact it was harder to notice when we had. It was as subtle as momentarily seeing a ‘Welcome to Scotland’ sign through a train window, or gradually noticing the road signs being written in both Welsh and English. Alongside this was my experience of having access to my own official paperwork, to identification and to a passport. I wasn’t unique in having this; those around me had the same. The result of all this, for me, has been a complete lack of framework for understanding the struggles people go through when they migrate to another country. It was pointed out to me recently that the people living within the nations they were born in naturally have such little understanding of how hard it may be for others to enter and live in their country. We’re spending a few days on a spontaneous trip to Mae Sot, otherwise known as ‘Little Burma.’ The Burmese people in this city outnumber the Thai. Today our team was able to cross the Thai border into Myanmar and spend the day there; we’ve been hoping to do that for a while now. I was so grateful for the opportunity to tread on the ground that we’ve heard so much about. I don’t feel able to even fumble around explaining the political climate of Myanmar, or to communicate just how real these stories are of fleeing conflict, but I do want to dwell on our border crossing. There was a tiny slice of time when we’d officially departed from Thailand and were walking across the Friendship Bridge towards Myanmar’s customs. We weren’t sure whether we’d be let into the country or whether our photo equipment would contradict our claim to be coming as tourists. We were in this limbo of physically walking on this earth, yet having two countries claiming that we are not within their land.
A friend we’ve made in Chiang Mai said a statement to us that we can’t forget. She said that the border is where darkness waits. It’s where people are most vulnerable, most desperate. Whatever they’re fleeing, the threat of returning to that circumstance permits a border crossing to be frantic, expensive and unjust. There are businesses literally thriving of the exploitation of a person’s transition into another country. This statement keeps circling in my mind. I’m so thankful for our stint in Thailand and, for me, I think this country marks the beginning of my heart really softening towards migrant people and refugees.