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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2730

A Burmese Perspective of: Going to Third Countries

Prof. Kanbawza Win

According to the 1951 UN Convention, the concept of refugee was define as, ."Owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country." It includes persons who had fled war or other violence in their home country. Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) protects and supports refugees at the request of a government or the UN and assists in their return or resettlement. The agency is mandated to lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. And for this the UNHCR won Nobel Peace Prize in 1954 and 81 respectively. Its primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees and strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another State with the option to return home voluntarily, integrate locally or to resettle in a third country.

But in practice the practical determination of whether a person is a refugeee or not is most often left to certain government agencies within the host country. This can lead to abuse in a country with a very restrictive official immigration policy; for example, that the country will neither recognize the refugee status of the asylum seekers nor see them as legitimate migrants and treat them as legal aliens as what Thailand has done to all the refugees who are fortunate or unfortunate to come to their country. On the other hand, fraudulent requests in an environment of lax enforcement could lead to improper classification as refugee, resulting in the diversion of resources from those with a genuine need as in the case of several Mae Sot based refugees. The percentage of asylum/refugee seekers who do not meet the international standards of special-needs refugee, and for whom resettlement is deemed proper, varies from country to country.

Failed asylum applicants are most often deported, sometimes after imprisonment or detention, as most of the Burmese are facing in Thailand. Globally, about 17 countries (Australia, Benin, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States) regularly accept quota refugees from refugee camps. The rest does not even care for refugees

American Benevolence

The Department of State released a media note on Oct. 19, 2006, saying the “Secretary of State exercised her discretionary exemption authority under the Immigration and Nationality Act, so that Chin refugees from Burma living in Malaysia, Thailand and India can resettle in the United States even if they have provided ‘material support’ to the Chin National Front or Chin National Army.” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signed the waiver in accordance with US foreign policy. Is the US is using the refugee issue as part of its case against the Burmese military regime in the UN Security Council or just purely a humanitarian gesture is food for thought. The waiver was the third material support waiver signed by Rice. The first two covered Karen refugees in Thailand. The US will likely issue waivers to cover other ethnic nationalities from Burma in the future. It appears likely that Washington will also actively pursue a policy of local integration, which has already include access to more rights to education and work in the neighboring countries of Burma. Hence there is a liability that more and more youths will come out of the country.

Washington set a limit of 70,000 refugees for fiscal year 2007, with 11,000 from East Asia alone and the majority will be from the people of Burma. The May 5 statement called the Karen National Union the “de facto civilian government of the Karen people.” Ellen Sauerbrey, Assistant US Secretary of State, told a UNHCR executive committee meeting in Geneva: “our government is extremely sympathetic to the groups that have engaged in resistance.”

Religious organizations and human rights groups have played a major role in raising awareness of the Chin issue in the US. American Christian missionaries have had a presence in Chin State since the late 19th century. Religious persecution in Burma, especially against Christians and Muslims, has attracted significant attention in the US. On Sept. 24, 1999, the Burma Catholic Bishops Conference together with the Burma Council of Churches in Rangoon sent a letter to the State Peace and Development Council saying, “Christians have no peace of mind.” Since the Bush administration has been pursuing a UN Security Council resolution on Burma, the refugee issue has become more visible. Ethnic nationalities in Burma should all assess their international campaign strategy.

President Bush met with Charm Tong, an ethnic Shan activist, at the White House in October 2005 and since these waivers have allowed Karen and Chin refugees to settle in America the logical conclusion is why not the Shan, since they face more persecution as the Thai government did not allow them a refugee status and their hardship are more than the other ethnic brethren? Hence the movement has started among the Shan at least in their Internet.

The US has a history of aiding ethnic nationalities. In 2001, US Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy P. Thompson invoked his discretionary authority to provide humanitarian assistance to more than 1,000 Chin and other asylum seekers from Burma in Guam. This group has made a significant contribution to the plight of Chin refugees in India, Malaysia and Thailand and the Chin community in Burma. Nobody will argue that this is a positive step for the US to address humanitarian problems and to work for resettlement for the greater rights of the refugees from Burma.

According to the Bible, Koran and Torah, the first know refugee is Abraham and the Lord has granted him a safe haven other than his home. In actuality, the word "Refugee" is filled with hope and come from the word "Refuge" which speaks of safety, protection and care for the hurting. It speaks of a save haven in a storm filled world. For those who have been battered by the storms of life, tragedies, persecution and disasters "refuge" is what they long for most. Now the plight of refugee is so much that June 20 was marked as the World Refugee Day by the UNGA in 2,000.

Refugee or Evacuees

Since the time of Abraham that are innumerable waves of refugees that seek asylum in better known places and so it is very natural for the persecuted people of Burma to seek a save haven in the West. But we should also remember that the people of Burma are not the only ones in this phase. Some of the latest refugees in the world are the removal of the entire population of the Chagos Archipelago (including Diego Garcia) by the UK and USA in the 1960s and 1970s. Forced removals of non-white populations in South Africa under Apartheid.The mass expulsions of Greek Cypriots from northern Cyprus and of Turkish Cypriots from southern Cyprus in 1974-1975.

Massacre of 3000 Tamils and Diaspora of over half a million in Sri Lanka.The widespread ethnic cleansing accompanying the Yugoslav wars from 1991 to 1999. The forced displacement of some 200,000 Georgians and other non-Abkhazians from Abkhazia in 1993. The 1994 massacres of Tutsis by Hutus, known as the Rwandan Genocide The mass expulsion of southern Lhotshampas (Bhutanese of Nepalese origin) by the northern Druk majority of Bhutan in 1990, and the very latest is the attacks by the Janjaweed Arabs, Muslim militias of Sudan on the non-Arab African Muslim population of Darfu regoin in Western Sudan. We are not comparing this with the ethnic cleasing and the refugee population in Burma but bringing to the fact that we are not alone in this adverstiy.

Even though quite a seizable number of Burmese ethnic refugees were accepted in the West, the majority remains in the camps, jungles and border towns as it is obvious that nobody can accept all of them, while at the same time the majority does not want to leave. If given their option they would rather go back to their homes in Burma and lead a normal life only if there is peace, law and order in the country save from the maurading Burmese Army.

Life of Burmese Evacuees

Almost every Burmese dream of a good life in the West, as they often draw conclusion from the media, especially from pictures and movies. But once they arrived in the West, they lamentably discovered that it is really hard to make both ends meet according to the Western standard and that what they envisions does not tally with the real life on the ground. The exploitation of man by man is very much encouraging as the rich and powerful have always a say.

They face a new environment, a new language, a new climate, new food, new living standard and most importantly new culture and new values. Their tradition beliefs and values did not fit into this new atmosphere and it was a great challenge for them to adopt a new life. Sometimes it takes generations to adapt and spend most of their live in nostalgia.

In toiling for their daily existence with the sweat of their brow flowing to their feet, as more likely 99 % of the refugees end up in a blue color work, they sadly discovered the unwritten rules of the country of their choice, i.e. racial discrimination. Their appearance is Asian and like any other Southeast Asian mistook them for the Chinese, which the West often describe as the "Yellow Peril" and more often than not suffer discrimination in their nutty gritty of life. Even though with the rapid rise of China and Samuel Huntington's prediction of the second clash of civilization has not occurred, things are not that rosy in a Caucasian world.

Of course in countries like Canada and US, there are institutionalized discrimination, e.g. even if one passed out with MBBS plus another doctorate degree from any other Asian University, he is not eligible to be a medical doctor, for they will not recognized your degree and one cannot pursue its profession. Of course there will be plenty of jobs like toilet cleaners and the related 3 D (Dirty, Dangerous and Demeaning) jobs, which their original citizens would not like to do.

But don't you ever dream of your relatives visiting you for they will not get the entry visa lest they would continue to stay in West for good. In this aspect the Canadian embassies around the world took the first place. A son who is residing in Europe for more than a decade could not visit their parents lest he should stay on in Canada. Ridiculous isn't? But its true. Perhaps these Western embassies have taken a leaf out of the Junta ways and means in their competition for the most inhuman aspect.

The refugees from Burma that arrived in the West are often isolated, ignored and neglected placing them in a very unwelcoming environment. How many of the Burmese refuges that arrived in Canada has committed suicide? How many of them have jumped down from the Niagara falls, not to mention the latest one that jumps down from the Patullo bridge in the Lower Mainland? Here in the West nobody will persecute a refugee but the indirect slow persecution, who cannot call in the tune of the Western values, customs, languages and values seems to be far worst that that of the Burmese Junta? I am not blaming the host countries that accepted them, what I am featuring is that for a prospective asylum seeker, life is not so rosy on the other side, as he had vision and if one chose to stay and struggle it out, it is far more better than a life of your dream in the West. The one thing which I am sure is that after one or two generation, one will lost its ethnic language, customs, values and culture and will merge with any of the country that he choose to reside. In other words your race, language, values and all that you treasure and fight for in Burma, will soon be eroded and your grand children will think that you are telling a fairy tale about your life in Burma and the camp? This is the price which you will have to definitely pay. It is far better to fight to the end than to live a life on your knees.

Ethnic Cleansing

Ethnic Cleasing refers to various policies or practices aimed at the displacement of an ethnic group from a particular territory. The "ethnic cleansing" entered the English lexicon as a loan translation of the Bosnian/Serbian/Croatian phrase etničko čišćenje in the early 1990s to describe certain events in the former Yugoslavia. Narrower definitions equate ethnic cleansing with forcible population transfer accompanied by gross human-rights violations and other factors, but in broader definitions it is effectively a synonym of population transfer. At one end it is virtually indistinguishable from forced emigration and population exchange while at the other it merges with deportation and genocide. At the most general level, however, ethnic cleansing, can be understood as the expulsion of an "undesirable" population from a given territory due to religious or ethnic discrimination, political, strategic or ideological considerations, or a combination of these. But it is a well-defined policy of a particular group of persons, to systematically eliminate another group from a given territory, that involves violence and is very often connected with military operations and that is exactly what the Burmese military government is doing.

As a tactic, ethnic cleansing has a number of significant advantages and disadvantages. It enables a force to eliminate civilian support for resistance by eliminating the civilians — in a reversal of Mao Zedong's dictum that guerrillas among a civilian population are fish in water, it drains the water. When enforced as part of a political settlement, as happened with the forced resettlement of ethnic Germans to Germany after 1945, it can contribute to long-term stability.Some individuals of the large German population in Czechoslovakia and prewar Poland had been sources of friction before the Second World War, but this was forcibly resolved thushus establishes "facts on the ground" - radical demographic changes which can be very hard to reverse.

Karen National Union fighting the military Junta is considered a terrorist group, and under the Material Support Provision of the 2001 Patriot Act, anyone seen as helping such an organization is not supposed to be allowed in the country but Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice waived that exclusion and it seems that thousands of the more than 100,000 Karen refugees living in camps on the Thai-Burmese border are eligible to come to America. Some have lived in the camps for more than 40 years, and the numbers have grown as thousands have fled from attacks by the Burmese army over the last 10 years, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The State Department designated the refugees a "population of special humanitarian concern to the United States due to the privations they have experienced" and determined that resettlement was the only "durable solution". Hence sometimes we wonder whether the American government is indirectly encouraging the ethnic cleansing of the Burmese military Junta? "What is now going on in Burma are crimes against humanity," said Sunai Phasuk, head of the Burmese consultant for New York-based Human Rights Watch. "The military government has significantly stepped up their systemic policy of violence against the ethnic Karen with this offensive."

Several decades of sporadic government campaigns have already driven hundreds of thousands of Karen and other refugees into neighboring Thailand, where at least 150,000 now live in official camps and an estimated 2 million dwell illegally. Although the military has long fought the Karen National Liberation Army it has mostly seemed content to stage small, periodic sieges against mountain strongholds in Karen state's northwest. But this year, the government's campaign has extended through the rainy season and assumed far larger dimensions, appearing to be a final assault aimed at smashing the resistance. Jack Dunford, executive director of the Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC), a US financed relief group based in Bangkok. "I fear this may be the beginning of the end there." Although the Thai government has adopted a more lenient policy on Myanmar refugees in recent years, aid groups say the bureaucratic process of admitting new arrivals has been slowed.

The Brain Drain

It is to be admitted that the ethnics, or rather the non- Myanmar groups of Burma, if compared to the Myanmar are not so much advanced and less educated partly due to the systematic discrimination and ethnic cleansing of the various administrations of the Burmese government. The few professional who managed to escape to the camps are the leaders and the ones that have visions for the future of their children and the younger generation and obviously choose to go to the Third countries. On arriving back to Canada I was shocked to know that four out of five of the camp leaders are already here. How can we manage the refugee camps when the cream of the society was wiped off. Running a small university education Programme in Chiangmai, this year only half of my pupil turn up for the semester and on enquiry discovered that they have chosen to go to a third country. If all the bright and intelligent ethnic people of Burma leave their motherland and settle in the West it would be far much easier for the Burmese army to implement its ethnic cleansing policy.

If the Christians choose to go to the Western country because of religious persecution, then the policy of the Military Junta of one country , one race and one religion would be a success. Our Lord, in the Good Samaritan story clearly depicts the sin of the first Jew and the second Jew while it was the Samaritan that responded to the crying need of the wounded man Why are the so call ethnic Christians committing the same mistakes as the first and the second man and leaving for good? If you call yourselves Christians why shun the cross to follow Jesus. Let us stand together and face it with what ever we have for Satan will soon be beaten.

On the other had it was very paradoxical that the Western countries whose loud rhetoric about the prevalence of democracy in Burma, are wittingly or unwittingly indirectly encouraging the ethnic cleansing. The current US administration, now with the Democrats in power should also do more to address the root cause of the problem

Prof. Kanbawza Win (Dr. B.T.Win): Incumbent Dean of Students of AEIOU Programme, Chiangmai University, Thailand. Senior Research Fellow at the European Institute of Asian Studies, Under the European Commission, Brussels, Belgium. Earlier Consultant to National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma. Editorial Consultant, "Asian Tribune." The learned Professor submitted this article for publication.

- Asian Tribune -

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