Photo Essays | Society | Southeast Asia

Kokang Refugees in China

Having fled from the ethnic conflict in Myanmar, the refugees face an uncertain future.

By Ann Wang for
Kokang Refugees in China

The oldest refugee at one of the camps, Li Wu Mei, 87, who has been a refugee from conflict four times during her life, in February 14, 2016.

Credit: Photo by Ann Wang
Kokang Refugees in China

Overlooking Myanmar from the Kokang refugee camps on the outskirts of Nansan town, Yunnan province, China on February 14, 2016.

Credit: Photo by Ann Wang
Kokang Refugees in China

Most women and children remain in the camp while men work as cheap labor in nearby sugar cane fields.

Credit: Photo by Ann Wang
Kokang Refugees in China

A photo documenting life in Myanmar can be seen in a refugee camp.

Credit: Photo by Ann Wang
Kokang Refugees in China

Refugees have very little few opportunities at the camp and no school for their children.

Credit: Photo by Ann Wang
Kokang Refugees in China

Signs before heading in to the camps set up by the local government administration, warning people not to enter the area.

Credit: Photo by Ann Wang
Kokang Refugees in China

Li Xiao Mei, 31, a Kokang native. She lost her left foot last April when she stood on a landmine outside her home in Kokang. She is now about $9200 in debt due to surgeries after the incident.

Credit: Photo by Ann Wang
Kokang Refugees in China

Li Xiao Mei, 31, a Kokang native. She lost her left foot last April when she stood on a landmine outside her home in Kokang. She is now about $9200 in debt due to surgeries after the incident.

Credit: Photo by Ann Wang
Kokang Refugees in China

Kokang refugees collecting wood from nearby forest for warmth and for cooking.

Credit: Photo by Ann Wang
Kokang Refugees in China

Residents around the refugee camps areas put up Chinese flags to avoid being hit by air strikes.

Credit: Photo by Ann Wang

When rebel group Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army launched attacks against the Myanmar military in Kokang Self-Administered Zone on February 2015, heavy fighting continued for months. According to the UN the conflict drove about 70,000 people across the border into China.

One year after the conflict and 27,000 refugees still remain in China, according to the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, the major donor of a Kokang Refugee Assistance Program. The number cannot be confirmed by major international humanitarian groups, due to the difficulty accessing the border areas of China.

Refugees long for the day they can finally return home and rebuild their homes. But worried about land mines, or of being arrested by the Myanmar military as spies for the rebel groups, many choose to stay.

The Chinese media seldom reports on the refugees, and so their continued presence in China is still largely unknown. In fact, officially they are not refugees but migrants. The main Kokang online forum that provides news about the refugees is blocked in Myanmar.

It’s been more than a year since the conflict. Without the aid of international humanitarian groups, the camps are facing food shortages, a lack of education opportunities, and once the sugar cane harvest is finished, the chance to earn even a modest income.

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Ann Wang is a photojournalist based in Myanmar.