By Kanako, an RIJ Intern
I briefly wrote about refugees in Burma last week and posted a video of a broadcast on Japanese television about a Burmese refugee family that have resettled in Japan. The father, Tin Win Akbar, has kindly written about himself and his background as a student himself in Burma, his activism in Japan in an effort to promote democracy in Burma, as well as some advise to students in Japan on how they can help refugees. He is truly an influential figure, whose story I’m sure will humble and inspire you.
My name is Tin Win Akbar and I was born on 28th November 1954 in Mandalay, upper Burma. My human rights and democratic activities were started in 1974 when I was studying “Applied Statistics” at the Institute of Economics, Rangoon University, and participated in the university students’ demonstrations against the military dictators. After my graduation in 1979, I continued studying Human Rights, Democracy, and Western Liberalism as a member of underground political study group in Mandalay.
I became the general secretary of “Upper Burma, Burmese Muslim Union” (also known as “Upper Burma Islamic Union”) in 1988, March 10 and later became one of the (44) executive members of the “Upper Burma General Strike Committee” that oversaw the demonstrations at the historic people uprising against the military dictators in Burma.
On 18th September 1988, the new military dictators (the protégé of the old general) known as “State Law and Order Restoration Council” and later as “State Peace and Development Committee” staged a fake coup d’état and crushed the people uprising by killing thousands of people, mostly young students. I was detained on 23rd September, 1988 at the Mandalay Central Jail for about (5) months and released on 10th February, 1989.
I became a member of National League for Democracy led by the 1991 Nobel laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on the very next day of my release. I also started my underground free-lance journalism in 1993 after I took part as an unofficial advisor to the president of Mandalay divisional National League for Democracy. During the first Congress of National league for Democracy that held from 26th May 1996 to 28th May 1996 at the compound of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, I was selected as a member of a syndicate named as the “Syndicate for Outlining the Heading for the New Democratic Constitution for Future Burma”. Being a member of this syndicate is the major reason for me to flee my motherland. I fled my country on 25th September 1996 and stayed in Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia for about two months and arrived to Japan on 17th November 1996.
At the outset, I neither knew about the refugee issues nor had any idea about applying for refugee status. However, I was warned by some of my colleagues that there is a danger of being forcefully deported to Burma once my 90-day visa expired, so they advised me to apply for the refugee status as early as possible. I applied for my refugee status at the end of December 1996 and I was granted the status on the 2nd February 1999. I was allowed to reunite with my family on 15th July 1999.
I became a member of the “People Forum on Burma” since its establishment and later became a stirring Committee member that I am still serving. In 1999, with four other Burmese exiles, I founded the “Burma Survey and Research Group” a small think-tank to advocate and advise the Burmese Human Rights and Democratic activities in Japan.
I founded the “Federation of Workers’ Union of the Burmese Citizens (in Japan), a free trade labor union register to the Tokyo Metropolitan government and supported by JAM, a Japanese labor union affiliated to the Japan Trade Union Confederations-RENGO. I have been the president of this union until to date.
I am living with my wife in Gunma Ken, Ota city and I and my wife are working in an Automobile parts making factory as general menial laborers. On the weekdays, I work eight hours a day at the factory and do my activities using my computer until late night. Almost every weekend, I used to go to Tokyo area, for activities for my democratizing my country and work for my labor union.
My eldest daughter, Haymar Tin Win is studying International Relations at the Asia University, My son, Demo Tin Win is studying History at the Kwansia Gakuin University and my youngest daughter Nayyi Tin Win is studying International Communication and English Literature at the Aoyama Guin University.
How can the students in Japan can help refugees?There are many ways that students in Japan can help the refugees since the academia is in the forefront of promoting refugees’ rights in Japan.
Firstly, I think there are problems on part of the whole Japanese society in understanding the refugees and there are problems on part of Japanese government to laying out the refugee policy. Every refugee policy must have two major components: one is Human Rights and Humanitarian consideration and the other is Social Security concern. The countries that receive a big number of refugees give priorities to the former and Japan emphasizes heavily on the latter and that makes Japan stingy on accepting the refugees. Unlike the western democracies, Japan is a country that does not give Human Rights any vital role in their foreign policy. On part of the Japanese society, they are very reluctant to live with the foreigners and they still require appreciating the diversity.For those reasons, I believe that the role of the students is to lobby or pressure the government or the policy makers to emphasize more on Human Rights and Humanitarian Consideration on their refugee policy and to plead with general public to understand about the vulnerability of Japan’s future without allow the hundreds of thousands of foreigners to make Japan as their home.Moreover, unlike the western democracies, the Japanese government is lacking far behind in supporting the refugees to start their live in Japan or in assisting the asylum seekers for their daily life during their refugee applications are under scrutiny. This is another spot that the students can assist the refugees and asylum seekers by giving advice and information along with learning the Japanese language.Wishing you all the best;
With regards & fraternity,Tin Win,
Federation of Workers’ Union of the Burmese Citizens in Japan.