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From MIZZIMA News Group (r)

Burma's Refugees for A Cause
By Soe Myint

(from "Asian Affairs": October, 1998, Volume 2, Number 24, a monthly
magazine published in UK.)

Recently, I met some of the Arakanese refugees from Burma, who are
presently taking refugee in a remote area of Mizoram State of India,
bordering Burma. I was told that their situation is so bad as that if they
do not get emergency medical and food supplies, many of them will die of
starvation and disease.

The nearly 400 Arakanese refugees scattered around a village called
"Parva" in the Indo-Burma border are not receiving any attention or
assistance from either the local authorities of India or international
humanitarian agencies. They have been living in this remote area of India
for nearly five years. They are neither recognized by Government of India
nor United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Delhi. Bamboo
shoot from the near by jungle areas has been their main food for the whole
year. Almost all of them are suffering from various diseases. According to
the Committee for Arakanese Refugees' Relief and Welfare, at least 400,000
Arakans from Burma were forced to leave their land due to forced labour,
extortion, arbitrary arrest and killings resorted to by the Burmese
military as well as due to political and economic crisis in Burma.

Besides India, there are thousands of Burmese refugees currently taking
shelter in Thailand, Bangladesh, and China. It is estimated that between
40,000 and 50,000 Chin refugees are staying in the Mizoram State of India.
About 2,000 Kachins from Burma are taking shelter in "Pinaung Zup"
district in Arunachal Pradesh of India. Some 500 refugees are living in
Delhi and about 30 are in Dhaka under the mandate of UNHCR. Thousands of
Rohingya refugees are in Bangladesh and many more numbers are in
Thailand-Burma border areas. About 10,000 refugees from the Kachin State
of Burma are in China.

One obvious cause behind the large-scale exodus has been the long-standing
civil war between the Government and the various nationalities. Many
ethnic armed groups have been fighting against the Government in Rangoon
for their political and ecmic self-determination since the country's
independence. The atrocities of the Burmese military such as extrajudicial
executions, religious persecution, forced conversion, forced labour,
forced relocation, and other human rights abuses have all led to the
people fleeing their hearths and homes.

However, a new wave of refugee exodus started after 1988 after the
military dictatorship re-enforced itself by staging a coup. The lack of a
democratic political system in the country has been at the root of Burma's
social problems, including the refugee crisis. The military seized  power
in 1962. Under its rule, Burma's economy has reached to a point where more
than 40 per cent of the population live in poverty and the country's
foreign debts are as high as US $ 4 billion. The industry is in a
shambles, agricultural production has sharply declined and the once-known
"rice bowl of Asia" had become one of the Least Developed Countries (LDC)
of the world. Shortage of basic commodities, high inflation and
unemployment made the people in cities face untold hardships. In the
villages, the farmers were forced by the Government to sell their produce
at prices much lower than in the market. When the farmers failed to
comply, the Government seized their properties such as land and took away
their produce. While the people suffered, the military clique and its
associates enjoyed all sorts of sops at the expense of the public

In 1987 the Government demonitised the country's currency and the people's
anguish exploded. It culminated into the 1988 People's uprisings against
the junta. The Government responded with bullets on the peaceful
demonstrators and staged another military coup in September 1988.

As the repression mounted, the political and economic situation further
deteriorated. The military continues to resist the demand of the people
for restoration of democracy. Subject to attacks of the army, people
continue to flee Burma for neighbouring countries.

The Burmese refugees living on the border areas of the neighbouring
countries lack security. They are often arrested for illegal entry,
harassed by the authorities and maltreated by the local populace. They
fail to receive recognition and assistance from the host-countries and UN
agencies. In 1994, about 300 Chin refugees were pushed back into Burma by
the India authorities. Some Chin girls and women working at the local
houses as maids have often been sexually harassed  by their employers.

Although UNHCR extends recognition and provides financial assistance to
some of Burma's refugees in Delhi and Dhaka, the refugees face many
problems. According to a report of the Delhi-based Chin Refugee Committee
(CRC), in some cases it took almost one year for a refugee to get the
refugee status. UNHCR doesn't provide any assistance to the refugee during
this one-year pre-recognition period. Several Burmese refugees staged
hunger strikes over the past few years in front of UNHCR's office in Delhi
to protest the unfair treatment of Burmese asylum-seekers. The Government
of India does not permit Burmese refugees in India to acquire residential
and other legal documents.

Burma also has an estimated 800,000 internally displaced people (IDP) in
Karen State and 50,000 IDPs in Kachin State of Burma. No governmental or
non-governmental organization is paying attention to this problem. The
Washington-based Human Rights Watch organization on October 6 of this year
said that 110,000 Burmese refugees living on the Thai-Burma border areas
are facing untold hardships. Most of these refugees belong to Karen and
Mon ethnic minorities. Human Rights Watch critised Thailand for its
refusal to let the UNHCR work in the refugee camps scattered along the
border and UNHCR for not protesting against Thailand's policy.

The solution of the Burma refugee problem lies in the restoration of
democracy in the country. The military regime has literally rejected the
results of 1990 elections in which the National League for Democracy (NLD)
led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi won a landslide victory. The NLD has been
demanding that the Government immediately convene Parliament. The NLD has
formed a 10-members committee which has the mandate of more than 250
elected MPs, most of whom are being detained by the junta. Daw Aung San
Suu Kyi has called for international recognition of the committee to pave
the way for transition to democracy.

(Burma was renamed Myanmar by the military junta of that country. Freedom
activists prefer to call their country Burma. The author is a freelance
journalist and a Burmese refugee himself.)

Posted by : MIZZIMA News Group with the consent of Asian Affairs.