Named for a courageous Russian freedom fighter of World War II, Zoya Phan was born in the remote jungles of Burma to the Karen ethnic group, who since the 1960’s has struggled for freedom and democracy against the brutal Burmese military dictatorship. Notorious for the bloody October 2007 crackdown on the “Saffron Revolution” of Buddhist monks, Burma’s fascist government also continues to imprison and persecute Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. Zoya is a true daughter of the revolution—her mother was a guerilla soldier and her father a pro-democracy leader—but even though her family constantly lived in hiding, her parents educated her and her siblings to understand the importance of resisting the repressive, to hold their dreams of living in a free society, and to survive myriad relentless attacks.
At fourteen, Zoya’s idyllic childhood was shattered as Burmese aircraft bombed her village and her family. Her family fled by canoe across the Moi River and for ten years they lived with thousands of refugees in camps where she witnessed unspeakable horrors. Her family scattered—her brothers deeper into the war while she and her sister were stuck in the despair of the refugee camps.
Even after Zoya won a scholarship to study in neighboring Thailand she was forced to remain in hiding since she was living there as an illegal immigrant. In 2005 she fled as a refugee to the United Kingdom, where at a “Free Burma” protest, Zoya was interviewed on BBC Newsnight, the first of countless interviews. She made her first major public address to 3,000 delegates at the 2007 Conservative Party Conference and is now fulfilling her father’s vision of her life and appealing their cause to politicians, presidents, and celebrities, becoming the face of an enslaved nation. Like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Zoya has become a powerful spokesperson against oppressors, despite the dangers posed to her life.
Today Zoya Phan is the International Coordinator of the Burma Campaign UK and is regularly interviewed by major national and international media including the BBC, CNN, Sky and Al Jazeera.