Refugees in Burma

Refugees International Japan CEO, Jane Best, with Burmese refugees at the Thai-Burma border

By Kanako, and RIJ Intern

The situation in Burma has been one of the longest ongoing conflicts. Burma gained its independence from the UK 50 years ago in 1948, and soon thereafter, there were uprisings against the government by a communist sect and various ethnic conflicts began to break out all over the country. A predominantly Christian group called the Karens began to demand that they become an autonomous Karen state, and the conflict between them and the government worsened once Buddhism was declared to be Burma’s official religion. Ethnic and religious conflicts between the Christian Karen, Muslim Rohingya, and the Buddhist regime contributed to the conflict, resulting in sporadic battles all over the country for many years.

There are nine refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border. Admission to these camps is strictly controlled by the Thai government, which only allows Christian Burmese into the country. Other refugees and asylum seekers living outside of the camps are considered by the Thai government as illegal immigrants, and are subject to arrest and deportation at any time.  The Thai government is sympathetic to the situation, but as with any other country receiving masses of refugees, they are wary for the well being of their own country. Countries receiving refugees are concerned that refugees will diminish resources, such as jobs, food, and water, and are also apprehensive about how they will be received by the native population, and whether they will be able to fit in to their societal norms. However, 58,000 refugees have found resettlement since 2005, which is promising, but nowhere near enough.

In December of 2008 the Japanese government announced that it would accept 90 refugees from Burma for resettlement in Japan over three years, which is nothing compared to the thousands of refugees that other countries such as the United States take in every year.  UNHCR has ongoing education and community development programs in northern Ra-khine State and community-based projects to restore basic services and improve the living conditions of displaced people in south-eastern Burma. Refugees International Japan has also funded programs that aid Burmese refugees, and have also visited the Thai-Burma border in the past.

It is interesting to see in the video how much this family still wants to return home to Burma, if the political situation allows them to. It is also impressionable when Dimo-san, a Burmese refugee that is studying History at university, says “I think that being able to learn what you want to know is an important thing. Because my country’s version of “history” only covers what is convenient for the military junta, I want to be able to teach the real history to the children [of Burma],” when asked about his dreams for the future.


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