I was born in Karen State, south east Burma. I had an older brother and sister and I grew up in a little village in the middle of the Burmese jungle.
I lived with my family in a small hut made of bamboo. My family was poor but my childhood was brilliant – everyone in the village helped each other out and I loved playing with my pets, the ducks and chickens we kept. I didn’t have any toys.
I loved going out into the jungle with my brothers, sister and friends. We went to collect all sorts of flowers, fruits and vegetables. We used to play by the river bank, and then jump in and swim in the river in the sunshine.
But when we were doing this one day, we saw a dead body floating in the river. It was badly dicomposed and smelled really bad. We were shocked… and we stopped playing in the river for months.
The Case of Zoya Phan Life in Burma I lived in a hut a bit like this one
The man had been killed by the Burmese Army because he was a ‘Karen’ (pronounced Ka-Ren) from Karen State. Me and my family are Karen too.
We had been promised independence 50 years before and the Army – who control the country – refused to give our people independence. We have been fighting for our freedom ever since. My mum and dad both helped to lead our people.
When I was 14 my own village was attacked by Burmese soldiers. We had minutes to escape, fleeing into the jungle. Eventually we made our way to a refugee camp in Thailand. On the way my mother became ill; there were no doctors and no medicines to help.
I worked really, really hard in school in the refugeee camp. Getting a good education was the only way out. I worked so hard that in the end I won a scholarship to study in Bangkok, Thailand.
It was the first big city I had ever seen… I was amazed by the buildings, the lights, the cars! I shared an apartment with my sister. We learned a bit of Thai, but we had to keep the fact that we were refugees from Burma secret.
In 2004 I won another scholarship, this time to study in the UK.
I travelled to the UK on false papers with the help of some very kind people. I have to keep their identity secret.
I flew to the UK and arrived in London in 2004.
The Journey The Case of Zoya Phan
The Reaction... The Case of Zoya Phan Copyright-BBC http://www.united-states-map.org/world-atlas/map-of-europe.htm “ My father became the head of the Karen people, and because of this the Burmese Army wanted to kill him. One day they found someone who had been ordered to kill him and his family. This meant my life was in danger too if I returned to Thailand after my studies. I had to claim asylum in the UK. “ I went to the Home Office centre in Croydon to register for asylum. Iwas told that I could end up in prison for 20 years for coming to the UK on a false passport. I was shocked, I thought I would be treated nicely.”
The Lifestyle The Case of Zoya Phan “ I used to cry myself to sleep at night.” “ I wasn’t allowed to work because I had applied for asylum. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t have a bank account and I had to rely on handouts. I was humiliated, to have to depend on other people’s sympathy." “ One day I was invited to a protest for Burma outside the Burmese Embassy in London. I went along, I was the only person in traditional Karen clothes and I was invited to speak from the platform. I felt so proud speaking on behalf of my people."
The Reaction The Case of Zoya Phan Because of the way I spoke, a man approached me afterwards. His name was Mark and he was the Director of the Burma Campaign UK. They campaigned for democracy and human rights in Burma. I started to volunteer with them. With the Burma Campaign I got the opportunity to do many things, and tell many, many people about what was happening in Burma. I have spoken at the Conservative Party Conference twice in front of thousands of people. I was interviewed by BBC Newsnight and many people from the British media. Al-Jazeera made a film about me.
The Resolution? The Case of Zoya Phan Since 2007 Zoya has worked full time for the Burma Campaign UK as their international co-ordinator . In October 2007 she addressed over 25,000 people in Trafalgar Square. She has lobbied and spoken with Gordon Brown, and travels around Europe holding meetings with lots of politicians . Zoya’s refugee status will expire in 2012. Without a positive change in her country, she son’t be able to go home without risking arrest, torture and her life. “ I was granted asylum by the Home Office in August 2007. It meant I was officially recognised as a refugee. I could stay in the UK for five years. It was the first time I felt I became a real person in the UK… no longer a ghost citizen."
The Resolution? The Case of Zoya Phan Meanwhile, as well as her job, Zoya dedicates her life to Burma and the Karen. She has set up the Phan Foundation , in memory of her father. She has also written her autobiography , “Little Daughter”. “ I don’t want to be here. I want to be in a Burma which spends money on medicine, not machine guns. Please help me help my country. Please help me to go home."