Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Undocumented 2 Burmese Refugees Arrested in Malaysia

by Theng,

Undocumented 2 Burmese refugees were arrested in Jeeteh of Terengganu state, Malaysia on 15 Nov 2011.
They both are Rohingyans and identified as Mr Sultan from Kyauktaw township and Mr Shamshu Alam from Maungdaw township of Arakan state, western Burma.
According to their friends, the raid was conducted by immigration and police authorities followed by Rela forces. The authorities entered into the home construction site at around 9:30am of the day and lifted 2 undocumented Rohingyans when the rest of UNHCR card holders were not arrested.
They both are detained in Ajil detention camp of Terengganu state and still await for UNHCR’s intervention.
Area based Rohingya representative in Terengganu said that there are about 500 Rohingyan refugees in Ajil, Tenah Merah and Juru detentions. Possibly only about 50 persons could be UNHCR card holders and the rest are undocumented including newly enterers.
A Rohingya leader in Kuala Lumpur said, "for this year no refugee has been deported nor sold out to trafficker. But a few were canned. UNHCR card holder detainees were able to get release within 3 months while undocumented refugees have to wait up to 3 months in order to complete registration with UNHCR. All undocumented refugees are unable to register with their refugee agency UNHCR due to limited or some often registration."
"However, the abusive conditions inside the detentions are still seen-able that include overcrowding up to 10 fold, malnutrition food providing, insufficient food and drinking waters providing are still taking place." He added.

Burmese Refugees Get American Style Christmas Thanks To Volunteers At A Greensboro Church

NC -- Burmese refugees were able to enjoy an American Christmas thanks to volunteers at a Greensboro church on Christmas day.
Close to 150 Burmese refugees attended a service and dinner at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church on Horse Pen Creek Road.
The Christmas mass started at 11:30 a.m., which was followed by a huge Christmas dinner. 
About 50 people volunteered to help serve dinner and give gifts to the children.
"There are so many people here, who have shown up to volunteer, on Christmas Day, when they could have been home with their families and things, but they came here," said organizer, Liam Stapleton.
Stapleton called it heartwarming.
"We're trying to integrate them into the communities here. And this is kind of that first step towards that.  So, we just want to make sure that they're welcome," he said.
Santa Clause was also in attendance to help distribute gifts to the refugees.
"It's wonderful. It's what Christmas is all about, being with people, helping them and just sharing the joy," said Freda Mandarano, who volunteered to help.
The refugees had to escape from Burma, which is now Myanmar, more than a decade ago.  They were forced to leave by the government.  Before they came to the U.S., many of the refugees spent 15 to 20 years in refugee camps in Thailand and Malaysia.

Top 10 ASEAN Stories of 2011

Southeast Asia was overwhelmed by political brinkmanship, territorial disputes and natural disasters in 2011. Perhaps just as important, the courts also figured prominently with some of the region’s more colorful and notorious personalities feeling the full brunt of the law. Here are some of the biggest ones:
1. Southeast Asia’s Big Wet
Storms killed more than 2,000 people across the region with record floods and billions of dollars in losses chalked up by business primarily in Thailand and the Philippines, with Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos also taking a massive knock.
Floods were a constant fear throughout most of the second half of the year, culminating mid-December in a storm dubbed Washi that triggered flash floods and mudslides in the Philippines and left a thousand dead. Hardest hit were the cities of Cagayan de Ura and Iligan, where more than 250,000 were homeless.That natural calamity, like the typhoons that struck earlier in the year, came suddenly and proved almost as deadly as the floods in Thailand, which persisted for months.
The United Nations noted Bangkok had for years been warned about the need to develop a fully integrated approach to flood prevention. But the biggest impediment was convincing government, and this was made all the more difficult in Thailand where rapid changes in leadership had compromised the ability to plot long term strategies to combat floods.
International aid donors were quick to react with millions of dollars of food, supplies and medicine airlifted in. Harder to shift were attitudes. As waters rose, authorities complained that residents refused to budge, saying they feared looters.
Thailand is the world’s largest rice exporter and had expected a rice crop of about 25 million tons in 2012, a number that’s forecast to slump by a quarter. From livestock to poultry and computers to automobiles, industries are still counting the costs.
2.     Emerging Burma?
Thirteen months ago, the Burmese military allowed elections that resulted in the first civilian government coming to power since 1962. The poll – despite being widely regarded as a sham – has pushed the country in a direction welcomed by the international community.
President Thein Sein has revised laws on political parties, freed about 300 political prisoners, sought a conciliatory line with pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and stunned observers by defying one of its few allies, China.
Beijing had planned to build a mega-dam inside Burma, but the plan generated enormous local resentment, prompting Naypyidaw to suspend construction. The government has also legalized trade unions and eased censorship laws.
The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) applauded the moves and decided to award the ASEAN chair to Burma in 2014.
As U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived on an historic visit to encourage further reforms, Suu Kyi lent some support by announcing she would contest up-coming by-elections once her National League for Democracy (NLD) party had been re-registered.
However, 1,700 political prisoners remain behind bars and complaints of human rights abuses persist, particularly in the countryside, where ethnic conflicts continue, prompting warnings that Burma’s ruling elite still had a long way to go before convincing skeptics its reforms are anything but superficial.
3. Clean Malaysia
When a group of non-governmental organizations and opposition political parties decided to rally in support of fair elections in Malaysia, few had expected the police and politicians in Kuala Lumpur would react as harshly as they did.
Prime Minister Najib Razak had initially attempted to play down the protest by Bersih, which means “clean” in Malay, but changed his tune after Amnesty described the crackdown as the worst case of suppression seen in his country for years.
Police were deployed under “Operation Erase Bersih”. They sealed off roads, dispatched toxic water cannons and opened fire with tear gas as tens of thousands attempted to march towards the iconic Merdeka Stadium. Stampedes followed, and the crowds dispersed into smaller groups and taunted riot police armed with batons, guns and shields. Baton charges followed.
Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, whose trial for sodomy was finally wrapped up at years’ end, was injured after police fired tear gas canisters into a tunnel. Protesters, however, remained defiant amid more than 1,000 arrests.
Most were too scared to wear yellow, the color synonymous with the movement. One man was dragged and kicked from outside the Chinese Maternity Hospital as tear gas was fired into the hospital’s grounds and next door at Tung Shing Hospital where protesters had sought shelter.
4. Yingluck Win Eases Tensions
Thailand was the only country in Southeast Asia to experience a change in leadership in 2011 after Yingluck Shinawatra and her Pheu Thai Party won a landslide victory over Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva in July.
Her win resulted in an easing of tensions at home and across the border and paved a way home for her brother and former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a bloodless 2006 coup. Her victory also delivered some respite for Thais frustrated by the long running and bloody standoffs between the Red and Yellow Shirts.
Importantly, victory generated an improved political climate with Phnom Penh, allowing for an easing of tensions along their border. At the 900-year-old Preah Vihear Temple where at least 10 people were killed in February when fighting broke out between Cambodian and Thai troops. A further 18 died when fighting erupted in April along other parts of the border.
Many thought her first task would be to negotiate an amnesty for her brother. However, Yingluck’s priorities were to change rapidly as the country’s worst disaster since World War II began to take shape.
Floods would take a heavy toll and redefine her first months in office, winning applause from her supporters and, perhaps too predictably, criticism from her political opponents.
5. End of a Deadly Era
Almost nine years after bombings by Islamic militants left 202 people dead on the idyllic Indonesian island of Bali, the last of the bombers was finally arrested, signaling an end to an historic manhunt and the War on Terror in Southeast Asia as defined by the first decade of this century.
Omar Patek was captured by Pakistani authorities in January following an apparent tip-off from U.S. intelligence. His arrest wasn’t made public for another two months.
The arrest afforded some closure for the relatives of victims and survivors of a tragic episode that heralded what became known as the Second Front in the War on Terrorism, covering Southeast Asia.
Osama bin Laden was killed soon after.
An explosives expert, Patek was Jemaah Islamiyah’s deputy field commander at the time of the first Bali bombing, committed amid calls for an Islamic caliphate across Southeast Asia. He’s also wanted in Australia, the United States and the Philippines, and is standing trial in Indonesia.
6. The Spratly Islands
Southeast Asian countries have seen an unwanted rise in tensions over the Spratly and Paracel Islands as China tries to flex its growing economic and military muscle. Tensions this year were perhaps at their worst yet with Chinese belligerence over the issue leading to rare protests in Vietnam.
Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan and the Philippines also have claims over the chain. Chinese claims are ambitious as the Spratlys lie across a sea and largely within the 200-mile limit of the Philippines and a political stone’s throw from Malaysia and Brunei.
In Hanoi, where the Paracels are particularly sensitive, protests were allowed and held in the lead-up to an ASEAN Regional Forum in Bali that was dominated by the Spratly issue. There was also a push to drop the name South China Sea. No one could agree on that either. Manila is now referring to it as the West Philippine Sea, the Vietnamese call it the East Sea.
Then Manila decided enough was enough and sent a political delegation of four to Pagasa Island, populated by about 60 Filipinos, within the disputed chain. They declared it Philippine territory and Beijing was hopping mad, again. Foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu insisted China held “indisputable sovereignty” over the island chain despite the geographical realities. None of its neighbors agree.
7. Khmer Rouge Tribunal
The Khmer Rouge Tribunal hit its stride with the three most important surviving leaders of the ultra-Maoists confronting the U.N.-backed court for crimes against humanity and delivering shocking testimony before the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts in Cambodia (ECCC).
Prosecutors focused on the immediate forced evacuation of Phnom Penh and urban centers around the country after the Khmer Rouge seized control in April 1975. Brother Number Two Nuon Chea, one-time head of state Khieu Samphan and former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary denied the charges.
Nuon Chea says the Vietnamese were to blame for atrocities, including genocide. Between 1.7 million and 2.2 million people died under Pol Pot’s rule, which ended in January 1979 when invading Vietnamese forces pushed the Khmer Rouge into the countryside where conflict continued for another 20 years.
Construction of a massive Chinese-backed airstrip in the central province of Kampong Chhnang was telling. Beijing supported the Khmer Rouge throughout the Cold War.
At least 30,000 people were marched to the air strip and ordered to work. Conditions were so bad that many preferred suicide, choosing to leap under passing trucks. The court was told how every member of Pol Pot’s Standing Committee visited the site and encouraged people to work harder.
8. Singapore’s Irritated Elite
When a government loses a handful of seats at a general election with little impact on the overall governing of the state, the media attention is usually minimal. But in Singapore, where the authorities have for years’ encouraged nothing but whole-hearted support for their leadership, such losses seemed tragic.
At the 16th parliamentary elections in May, the opposition polled better than ever. The People’s Action party (PAP), in office since independence in 1965, won a reduced 60 percent of the vote, down from 67 percent in 2006.
Still the PAP managed to win 81 of the 87 contested seats.
Singapore’s founding father, longest serving prime minister and, from 2004, the cabinet’s minister mentor Lee Kuan Yew, was upset and resigned. His son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, subsequently urged citizens to become part of a cause to build a better Singapore.
He also described the poll as a watershed. Housing shortages, problems with public transport, a growing wealth gap and immigration were blamed for the PAP’s worst performance in its history. Singapore’s ruling elite isn’t used to criticism. The prime minister’s commented: “… the issue is not policies or whether we are doing right or wrong, but who is in charge, in power.”
9. People Smuggling
For Australia, the year began much the same way as it ended. People smuggling and illegal immigration dominated its agenda with Southeast Asia, particularly Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.
A refugee swap with Malaysia was struck down by Australia’s High Court as overloaded boats ferrying human cargo from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Sri Lanka continued to land. This led to the December sinking of a boat off Indonesia, with perhaps 180 lives lost.
However, Prime Minister Julia Gillard insists a deal with Malaysia along with a regional solution remains the best way to combat people smuggling. More than 1,200 asylum seekers are being held in detention facilities on Christmas Island off Australia’s northwest coast.
10. Malaysian Heroics in London
One Malaysian deservedly won himself a place among the top stories of 2011 for being decent. Soft spoken Asyraf Haziq Rosli, stunned and bleeding, was filmed being helped to his feet after being beaten in East London at the height of the August riots.
The cameras then caught his apparent “rescuers” rifling through his backpack and stealing what they could. At least three million people watched the cowardly act on YouTube. But Rosli was applauded for his response, after initially suffering a broken jaw and lost teeth when 100 youths charged him and a friend.
“I feel sorry for them... It was really sad, for among them were children, boys in primary school. It was quite shocking,” the 20-year-old reportedly said.
Cameron said Rosli’s plight highlighted how things were “badly wrong in our society.”

Source :

Malaysiakini brings cheer to refugee children

Dozens of bags filled with toys were delivered to a Burmese refugee learning centre in Kuala Lumpur by a videographer-turned-Santa Claus from Malaysiakini yesterday.

Maran Perianen, project director at Malaysiakini's citizen journalism programme, who doubled as Santa Claus for the first time in his life, described the event as "a joyous moment".

NONE"I have seen Santa dishing out presents before, but this is the first time I had a chance to become Santa and give out presents," he said. "The experience was definitely out of this world."

Maran was accompanied by Malaysiakini editor-in-chief Steven Gan and 10 team members.

The toys were donated by Malaysiakini staff, while the contact to the Burmese refugee centre was established through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

NONETwo UNHCR interns helped the Malaysiakini staff carry the bags up steep stairs lined with small shoes leading to a large classroom with brightly coloured walls and a crowd of 70 audibly and visibly exhilarated children.

Santa, to his alter-ego's relief, was immediately recognised by the children, most between four to 10 years old. The toys were given out one at a time as they queued up in orderly anticipation.

Learning centres such as this are run by the refugee communities themselves as well as by several NGOs.

NONEFor the refugees, these centres are vitally important. Without them, it is highly unlikely that the refugee children would receive any education at all.

According to the UNHCR, at least 70 schools for refugees exist in Malaysia providing basic education to over 5,000 children.

The UNHCR provides funding, training and equipment to the community learning centres.

Bringing smiles to children's faces

"The children should look forward to this kind of excitement in their lives every day, not only during Christmas or other festive season," Maran said.

"This will make them feel loved and cared for."

Gan said that Malaysiakini encourages its staff to also raise funds for a number of worthy causes.

NONEFor example, it has a strict policy of not accepting gifts of any kind from individuals and companies, and all journalists are required to declare them to the office.

These gifts are later auctioned off among Malaysiakini staff and the money raised subsequently given to charities.

"It's great to be able to help bring a smile to the children's faces. Indeed, we did more than that - the kids were squealing with delights on receiving their raised subsequently given to charities.

"It's great to be able to help bring a smile to the children's faces. Indeed, we did more than that - the kids were squealing with delights on receiving their toys," he said.

Myanmar refugees indulge in traditional fare during Christmas

WHILE many celebrate Christmas with turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, fruitcake and pudding, it is not the same at the Myanmar refugee community in Kepong.
For the Yuletide season, their traditional delicacy comprises boiled wild boar, stir-fried potatoes, diced cucumber and wild boar soup.
To some, it may sound repulsive but this is what brings the Zo people of Myanmar together.
David Mung, 31, is the head teacher at Zo Children’s School, a day school for Myanmar refugee children, in Taman Wangsa Permai.
“Boiled wild boar is a delicacy in Myanmar during the holiday season. There is nothing fancy in cooking it. It is just boiled with some salt and pepper and we eat it with rice. For us, it is important that we preserve our culinary heritage despite being in a foreign country,” said Mung.
“In Malaysia, you have many different cultures, not to mention the wide array of local and international cuisines. We cannot afford to splurge on food. This is what unites us as it is a reminder of what we had back home,” added Mung, who fled Myanmar in 2008 with his mother and sister because of religious persecution and the economic crisis. He has been living in Malaysia ever since.
The Zos form a group of Tibeto-Burman people inhabiting the Chin Hills in Myanmar.
Belting it out: One of the kids at the Zo Children School singing along to “We Are The World”.
“Our people who are good at hunting will be in charge of catching the wild boars in the Chin jungles during Christmas. It was fun for us as a community to take home the wild boar, cook it and eat it together.”
Mung’s mother, Mary, 55, was the one in charge of preparing the home-cooked delicacies.
“It is not easy to cook the wild boar. The meat has to be boiled overnight so it will be tender,” she said.
Before the meal, the children sang along to We Are The World — not the 80’s version but the latest one produced in 2010, via YouTube.
“It’s my way to teach English in a fun way. I also teach them songs from Boney M and Abba, which are my favourite bands,” said Mung.
The tiny Christmas tree at the school, situated on the first floor of a shophouse, was decked with mini-twinkle lights.
“We cannot afford a big, new Christmas tree so ours was donated,” said Mung last Saturday during their annual Christmas party.
Used toys comprising stuffed animals, cars and other items were laid on the floor where each had a number.
“Just like previous Christmas parties, we will include a lucky draw for the children to win some toys, donated by the public.”
There is no air-conditioning at the school which is no bigger than 900sq ft, but that doesn’t stop the festivities from taking place.
While many of us list high-tech gadgets and smartphones on our Christmas wishlist, the Zo children are over the moon to receive any toy, even though wrapped in recycled magazine pages.
Grace, 21, also from the Zo tribe, who works as a waitress at a nearby restaurant, volunteers her time at the school to help Mung.
“I’ve been in Malaysia for the past one year. Being at the school is like being at home for me,” she said.
The setting up the school was not an easy task for Mung.
“It was challenging because we didn’t have any money to buy books and basic school supplies. F,urthermore the parents questioned my qualifications as a teacher.
“But eventually they began to trust me with their children. Many of the parents are uneducated and work as odd-job workers. They needed someone like me to provide their children with the basic education,” said Mung, who runs the school with seven other teachers and volunteers.
The children, aged between three and 14, are taught Bahasa Malaysia, English, Science and Mathematics as well as music from 9am to 1pm. After they go home for lunch, they return in the afternoon to the school for computer lessons.
So far, the school has about 50 children. Mung is also a musician and learned his skills at a church in Myanmar.
“We cannot afford to buy new musical instruments so most of what we have like guitars and keyboards are donated,” Mung said.
Three years have gone by and Mung feels happy and tired at the same time.
“I stuck through the odds and hardships. As the head teacher, I feel it is important to teach the children good values. I look forward to many more happy Christmas occasions like these in future,” he added.

Hotel brings festive joy and cheer to Myanmar Chin refugees

HOTEL ARMADA Petaling Jaya paid a visit to a community of Myanmar Chin refugees who are currently living at a rundown flat in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur.
The visit from the hotel’s staff was to shed some “festive light” while spreading Christmas cheer and joy to the refugees who have to live on the margins of society most of the time.
With the majority of the Myanmar Chins being Christians, it is also an early Christmas celebration for them.
Having left Myanmar to flee persecution, the Myanmar Chin refugees have found an uneasy transit point here in Malaysia.
Sharing joy: Hotel Armada employees posing with the refugees.
Travelling discreetly across Thailand’s forests and borders, risking their lives to get to a place where they can call “sanctuary”.
Originally from a small state called Chin in Myanmar where the majority of the population are Christians, they have run for their lives from forced labour, military rape and torture, religious persecution, and other severe human rights violations.
Being refugees, the majority of them do not have proper documentations to apply for a proper job.
With what minimal income they can bring in, they are forced to share a one-unit low-cost flat with a minimum of three families.
To help enlighten their burden, Hotel Armada Petaling Jaya donated in bulk basic necessities such as rice, instant noodles, biscuits and cooking oil.
Food aid: Hotel staff with the donations rice and food items for the Myanmar refugees.
Apart from presenting the food donation, the visit was also aimed at showing care and support to the refugees and to remind them that they too were cherished and respected in the spirit of Christmas.
The refugees received the donated goods from the hotel’s general manager Hoon Tai Chee, heads of departments and personnel.
A volunteer who looks after the Myanmar community in Cheras — Vincent Chen from the Church of St. Francis of Assi — was put in charge of distributing the rest of the donation among other refugee communities in the area.

Source : The Star

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Refugees clean up neighbourhood

MYANMAR refugees have cleaned up playgrounds and back alleys of shop lots in Jalan Khoo Teik Ee as a part of a competition under the Jom Gotong-Royong programme.

Myanmar Refugees
The event, organised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), is also an effort by the foreigners to give back to the local community.

        The clean-up was carried out by members of the Chin Disciplinarian Action Committee (CDAC), which was formed  to discipline the tribal group and maintain  peaceful relations with the local community.

      About 25 people were involved in the clean-up, which included sweeping the roadside and drains, as well as collecting garbage from 8am to 10am.

       UNHCR external relations officer Yante Ismail said the competition began last month and will end in January.

      She said UNHCR will evaluate conditions at the site of the clean-up before and after  to determine the winner.

      "The prize money will be channelled to the refugees' committee," she said.

      The grand prize is RM3,000 while second and third place winners will receive RM2,000 and RM1,000, respectively.

     CDAC chairman Lalsiammawi, 35,  said  although there are some bad apples, who had fought when drunk and caused trouble, not all the members were the same.

     "We've been cleaning up this area even before the competition. A lot of us wish to live peacefully during our stay here," he said, adding that they are grateful for UNHCR's support.

      He said previously, City Hall helped them during the clean-up.

    "Some local residents gave a thumbs up when we were cleaning," said Lalsiammawi.

      Chin Refugee Committee medical coordinator Patrick Sang Bawi Hnin, 26, said the refugees' effort is a show of thanks  for the shelter that the country has provided during their troubled times.

     "This is our way of showing our appreciation," said Sang.

     Restoran Soo Kee worker, Kok Ming, 54, said apart from the clean-up, the foreigners should also stop the habit of spitting all over the place after chewing  betel leaf.

    "It is a horrendous habit that makes customers feel uncomfortable," said Kok Ming

Jalan Imbi 7-Eleven store manager Noorazilah Zakaria, 26, said CDAC has been a great help.

     "They have stopped fights among their people," she said on the effectiveness of the committee members.

       Yante  said it is hoped that clean-up efforts by the CDAC will help iron out misconceptions about refugees and  reduce negative sentiments towards the foreigners.

    "Unlike migrants, refugees are here because they could not go back to their countries for economic opportunities,"  she said.

             Yante said  some were allowed to perform  menial jobs  by the Home Ministry as a humanitarian gesture by the Malaysian government.

      "However, there are no distinctive laws to properly govern them yet."

There are about 95,000 refugees in Malaysia, with about 86,000 coming from Myanmar

Karen immigrants find viable employment option

ABERDEEN, S.D. (AP) — Sixty-one Karen refugees from Myanmar are now helping Molded Fiber Glass meet its employment needs

The Karen (pronounced ka' ren or kuh-ren) began immigrating to the United States about 20 years ago after fleeing persecution in their native land. Most spent months and sometimes years in refugee camps in Thailand before immigrating to primary settlement sites in the U.S.
Many of those now making wind turbine blades at Molded Fiber Glass previously lived in Huron, a primary settlement city, where they worked at the Dakota Provisions turkey processing plant.
Other Karen have come to Aberdeen from St. Paul, Minn., Spokane, Wash., and other primary settlement sites, said Dave Giovannini, Molded Fiber Glass general manager.
The workers that have been hired so far have been excellent, said Giovannini said.
"They have performed exceptionally well," said Travis Sexton, shift supervisor. "It has been an easy transition. All four of the gentlemen I work with have been quick learners and hard workers. Once they get going, it is hard to get them to stop."
Molded Fiber Glass, which employs 390 workers, needs to hire more because there is a strong demand for wind turbine blades, Giovannini said.
"We have an immediate need for 60-70 workers, and with low unemployment in the region, there were just not enough people available," he said. "We have not been able to meet our employment needs. So we had to look outside the box and look at the model used by Dakota Provisions."
Saw Khu Thar, 31, was one of the first Karen hired by Molded Fiber Glass four months ago. Previously, he worked at Dakota Provisions.
"I used to work in the turkey plant, but it was very cold inside," he said. "I wanted to work in different place."
Thar spent time in a refugee camp in Malaysia before immigrating to Dallas. There he was able to get only part-time employment for minimum wage. He moved to Huron to get a better paying job and now has moved to Aberdeen.
"I am happy for my job here," he said.
Baw Htoo Khet, 29, was also in the first group of Karen hired four months ago. He moved from Spokane to Aberdeen with his wife and two children. He and his family are renting an apartment, and their children attend May Overby Elementary School.
"This job gives me a better future," he said.
In Myanmar, which most Karen refer to as Burma because of their opposition to the ruling dictatorship, life for Karen was dangerous.
"We could have been killed if we stayed there, Khet said.
His family fled the country to a refugee camp in Thailand before immigrating to the U.S.
Khet speaks English well and translates for his friends when needed.
About half of the Karen at Molded Fiber Glass can converse in English, while half have little or no English skills, Giovannini said.
The Karen are legal immigrants who receive resettlement assistance from agencies such as Lutheran Social Services and qualify for government assistance for eight months until they find employment. Debra Worth, associate director of the Lutheran Social Service South Dakota Refugee and Immigration Center in Sioux Falls, is one of those helping Karen in the area.
Molded Fiber Glass has dedicated many resources to helping the Karen, Giovannini said.
The Human Resources department including director Rebecca Duke, Dawn Vaux and Tammy Spellman work with Karen to find housing, transportation and other essentials needed for their settlement in Aberdeen.
Giovannini said the Karen have been through difficult times and are committed to making a good life for themselves in this country.
"They want to make it," he said.
Nu Pay, 42, a Karen worker, moved to Aberdeen from Spokane, where he worked as a lay pastor with Karen in the Baptist Church. He is married and has one child. He had attended Bible school in Myanmar. Many Karen are Baptists, having first been exposed to the religion by missionaries in the 1800's, according to Friends of the Karen of Burma website.
Pay said he would go back to his country if he could, but that is not possible as long as there is no freedom there.
Saw Aung Lwin, 40, another Karen worker, said most Karen are sad they had to leave their country.
"We hide our feelings sometimes," he said. "But we try to do the best we can do."
He previously worked as a foreman at the turkey plant in Huron, but he said the cold temperatures began bothering his arthritis. He prefers manufacturing wind turbine blades, he said.
"I can find more opportunities to be myself here," he said.

Information from: Aberdeen American News,

Greensboro parish welcomes Burmese refugees

GREENSBORO — For about 100 Burmese refugees living in the Triad, Christmas Day will be more than a celebration of Jesus' birth. It will be a chance to worship freely, in their own language.
A Mass at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Greensboro will be said in Burmese and will include liturgical elements that are traditional in the Southeast Asian country. Afterward, St. Paul parishioners will celebrate with the refugees over a Christmas dinner and gifts. For some of the refugees, most of whom spent years in refugee camps before coming to the U.S. in the past few years, it will be the first time in years they have been able to receive the Eucharist or hear a Mass in their own language.
"It makes it so meaningful to them when the celebration is in their language," said Redemptorist Father Vang Cong Tran, a priest in residence at St. James the Greater Church in Concord, who will celebrate the Mass. He works with Asian refugee communities across the diocese, including a more established Burmese community in Charlotte. "The Mass is very important ... when the Mass is in their culture, in their language, in their history – it makes it real to them."
Pictured above: A young Burmese refugee prays at a Mass in Winston-Salem recently. "They long for the Eucharist," said Father Vang Cong Tran, who ministers to Asian refugee communities across the Diocese of Charlotte.
The journey to this precious Christmas gift began in 2010, when parishioners from St. Paul Church visited a refugee camp in Malaysia and spent time with refugees.
"Two of my former students (at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Ohio) are now ordained and serve as priests in (Burma)," said Father John Allen, St. Paul's pastor. "I wished to learn about their experiences as priests but knew that a personal visit in their country would be impossible."
121411burmeserefugee Father John Allen, pastor of St. Paul Church in Greensboro, addresses Burmese refugees during a parish trip to Malaysia last year. The parish is working to help Burmese living in refugee camps in Asia and those who have come to the U.S. (Photos by Liam Stapleton) Burma, now called Myanmar, has been under the rule of a military junta since the 1960s and only recently has begun showing signs of liberalization. The United Nations has condemned the government for human rights violations, and ethnic and religious minorities including Catholics have been systematically persecuted. The government's harsh rule has caused thousands, most of them indigenous people, to flee across the border to Thailand or Malaysia.
Among them is Mark Khup, who now works with Catholic Social Services in its Charlotte refugee resettlement office. He came to the U.S. in 2008 after spending three years in a refugee camp in Malaysia. Burmese are forced to labor for the military, he says, doing tasks such as putting up tents. Church communities are often not allowed to use their buildings for services; a church in his community was decommissioned and the land slated for a Buddhist temple.
Indigenous communities are often forced from their homes and resettled, said Liam Stapleton, a St. Paul parishioner who was part of the Malaysia visit. "When they get displaced out of their communities ... they've lost their identity," Stapleton said. "The mainstream people in Burma burned their houses down and they had to run over the hills into Thailand. (But) a lot of times life is not better over there."
St. Paul parishioners hope to help the Burmese on two levels: those in refugee camps and those who have emigrated to the U.S. Health care and education are two key needs in the camps, and St. Paul is working to establish a scholarship fund for children there. And here in North Carolina, the parish is offering a faith home and working with Father Tran to help refugee communities across the state. New arrivals need housing, furniture and household goods, clothing, and often lessons in English.
The needs are great, and parishioners are still figuring out how best to help. It's a puzzle, but "the jigsaw is coming together," Stapleton said.
After years of upheaval, the safe haven of a Mass in the refugees' own language is a balm to the spirit.
"They long for the Eucharist," said Father Tran. "They know that the Church loves them and encourages them."
Settling into a new life in the U.S. is challenging, Father Tran said, but having a nurturing faith community helps. "People appreciate the welcoming hearts."

Source :

Refugee agency aids newcomers

December 22, 2011

Four years after government persecution pushed him to flee his family's farm in Myanmar, Thangtung Pau found himself flying from Malaysia to Chicago on his 32nd birthday.

Pau arrived at O'Hare International Airport in July without much more than his refugee status and the English he had taught himself from a book. Five months later, Pau has a job as a maintenance worker at a Gold Coast gym, a small Edgewater apartment and a strong grip on conversational English.

He credits RefugeeOne, a nonprofit in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood, with helping him find his way in a new country.

"RefugeeOne is I feel like my parents since I arrived in Chicago because they help me in my everything," he said. "They taught me not only speaking English but also they taught me job class. That is awesome."

The agency, which changed its name last year from Interfaith Refugee and Immigration Ministries, opened its first office in Chicago in 1982. It helps settle 400 to 500 refugees each year. Over the years, it has assisted waves of newcomers from Iraq, Sudan, Cambodia, Nepal and Haiti, meeting each one at O'Hare with a case manager who speaks their language.

Once here, the agency provides refugees with a furnished apartment, job training, mental health and wellness services, and help procuring a Social Security number and other documents. Refugees arrive already in debt — they are obligated to repay the U.S. for the cost of their plane tickets — and the goal is to help them become self-sufficient as quickly as possible.

"They're survivors. They made it here. They made it through thick and thin to come to the United States," Executive Director Greg Wangerin said. "They have the energy, they have the enthusiasm, they have the desire to get their feet on the ground — and we're just here to help unlock a few doors."

Wangerin said most of the refugees now arriving in Chicago are Myanmar coming out of Thailand and Malaysia and Bhutanese from Nepal, along with Iraqis and a smaller number of African refugees from Somalia or the Darfur region of Sudan.

On a recent weekday, arrivals from Myanmar, Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea worked through an exercise about English past-tense verbs in one classroom while a handful of students in a neighboring computer lab puzzled out sentence structure.

Earlier that day, a group of Sudanese men met with Aimee Hilado, a clinical social worker, for group therapy. Some discussed fleeing Darfur and living as nomads for two years before settling in Kenyan refugee camps.

Hilado said a large number of refugees arrive in Chicago with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

"Some are also grieving for the people they left behind," she said. "We want them to be able to feel that emotion but still be able to engage."

Government agencies provide about 75 percent of RefugeeOne's $2.5 million budget, with the rest coming from private donations. RefugeeOne is one of many area nonprofits to receive financial support from Chicago Tribune Holiday Giving, a campaign of Chicago Tribune Charities, a McCormick Foundation Fund.

The agency gets a one-time payment of $1,850 per refugee from the federal government, which is typically used up just setting up an apartment, Wangerin said. Gentrification in North Side neighborhoods where cheap apartments were once abundant has made it more difficult, he said.

Refugees apply for the same public aid available to Illinois residents, which expires after eight months, so the pressure is on to quickly find work, an obvious difficulty in today's job market.

"(We make it work) by hook or by crook with chewing gum and baling wire," Wangerin said.

Though some refugees arrive with an overly sunny view of America's job market, Pau, who spent several years in Malaysia applying for asylum, quickly learned differently.

"The United States is very different from Malaysia or Burma to get a job," he said. "So when I saw that point, I tried to improve my English faster."

Pau now plans to begin studying to earn a truck driver's license and hopes that his wife and 7-year-old daughter will be able to join him in Chicago, perhaps even next year.

"I'm very excited to get a job that I love," he said. "I gave thanks to God."

Please donate now to Chicago Tribune Holiday Giving. Give online at holiday giving or call 800-217-3190.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Refugee Monologues

Refugee Monologues

By: Diana van Oort

Give them a face, a name and let them tell their story, By: Diana van Oort
Give them a face, a name and let them tell their story and refugees will be seen as people, not as numbers and be ignored. This is what The Actors Studio in cooperation with the UNHCR did in October. ‘Life Sdn Bhd 7: refugee’, shows you a glimpse into the lives and challenges of some of the refugees living in Malaysia. Honest and compelling stories that often go unheard, told by seven refugees: Khampi, Ngun Siang, Raine, Sharifa and Trasia (Myanmar), Theepika (Sri Lanka) and Ahmed (Somalia). They talked about fear, death, isolation and being homesick, but also about hope and happiness.

Burmese Refugees in Malaysia

Most of the almost 95.000 registered refugees in Malaysia are from Myanmar (formerly called Burma) and most are members of one of the minorities. They fled their country because of political or religious prosecution or the sheer terror of the regime. Some were professionals, like nurses, teachers or pharmacists, many others just farmers caught in a dirty war.

It’s a challenge to start over in a new country, especially since refugees in Malaysia don’t have an official status and don’t have access to legal employment. Therefore many are almost condemned to do dirty, dangerous and difficult jobs. Some employers pay them a decent wage, others don’t keep their promises and pay them too little or nothing at all. The children can’t go to a normal school, but some are able to attend community school.

There are no refugee camps in Malaysia. The refugees just live among the Malaysians, more often than not in small, overcrowded apartments. They are almost invisible. Not speaking English they feel isolated, because they are stuck at home, just not doing anything, not being able to work or go to school. The refugees try to help each other: who has a job supports the others who don’t. Learning English so they can find a job or go to school is what the refugees did. Especially the younger ones long for a good education so they have a change of a better life.
...and refugees will be seen as people, not as numbers and be ignored, By: Diana van Oort

Refugees Take the Stage

Theirs is a heart wrenching story of detention, abuse, fear, neglect, and humiliation. But there are stories of resilience, courage, hope and love as well. The stories are complemented by songs. Deborah Priya Henry, Miss Universe Malaysia 2011 and refugee rights advocate shared her experiences in working with refugees. So did Susheela Balasundaram who ran a mobile clinic for refugees and worked for doctors without borders. She now works for the UNHCR.
Songs complementing the stories, By: Diana van Oort

It was impressive to see the emotions that were just lying below the surface. You felt so much more pain and suffering than they were telling. Having read many stories especially about Myanmar, I could fill in the blanks easily.

If you’re new to the subject, the stories are a nice introduction, but less and longer stories maybe could have given more depth and understanding to the plight of the refugees.

Source :

The cold realities of life in Malaysia as a refugee

Having returned recently from working with refugee communities in Malaysia, I was shocked to see headlines stating that the government was again talking up the supposed benefits of the now defunct Malaysia agreement.
Vulnerable people are still being detained. Conditions in Malaysia's detention centres are still cramped and appalling. UNHCR is still regularly visiting the centres in order to get people released, but the ability for any other organisation to get in to see what is really happening is almost non-existent.
Children as young as three are still being detained, rounded up, without their parents.
I spoke with a 14 year old girl, Yasmeen* who had only recently arrived from Afghanistan. Facing violence in her home country she was sent by her family, on her own, to stay with family friends in Kuala Lumpur. While she had been able to register with UNHCR she was told it would be 7 months before they could interview her to determine whether or not she was a refugee.
Yasmeen chatted to me happily until her friend started talking about how the police had stopped and questioned her mother and how she managed to get away. Yasmeen’s smile rapidly disappearing, frantic questioning ensued, the cold realities of living in Malaysia as a refugee being to dawn on her.
Right now Malaysia is starting to register "undocumented migrants" including refugees under the 6P programme. So far approximately 1.3 million undocumented workers have been registered. With an estimated further million still unaccounted for it appears the Malaysian government is gearing up for another major crackdown on anyone it deems 'illegal'.
"It appears the Malaysian government is gearing up for another major crackdown on anyone it deems 'illegal'."
What will they do if they find 14 year old Yasmeen? With only a letter from UNHCR to protect her, will she be allowed to contact them to get her out of detention? How long will that take?
Equally disturbing about the Australian government’s statement, at the recent ALP conference, was the linking, again, of an increase to our offshore humanitarian program (from 13,750 to 20,000) with the successful implementation of the Malaysia agreement. UNHCR and others were quick to again highlight the fundamental differences between our obligations to protect those seeking asylum here, as opposed to an immigration resettlement program designed to show solidarity with poorer countries hosting the vast majority of the world's refugees.
As the government continues to advocate Malaysia as a 'solution', my visit showed me that the country's authorities have a very different idea for refugees. If the government believes we can take 20,000 people, then should do it and not link it to an arrangement that undermines international human rights law and our obligations under this legislation

Graham Thom is Refugee Coordinator for Amnesty International Australia

*The name and photo above have been changed to protect identities

 Source :

Sanctions On Burma Must Be Maintained – OpEd

Written by:

December 13, 2011
Sanctions and other punitive actions on Burma should be maintained by the US and Western nations for the simple reason that the current regime is not interested in political solutions and is mounting an all out war against the Kachin ethnic nationalities, practicing ethnic cleansing and committing gross human rights violations on all other ethnic nationalities. It even continues to use chemical weapons to wipe out this particular ethnic race. One could not comprehend of why there is a cacophony of calls to drop the sanctions and let Burma into the community of civilized nations when it is still a rogue state.
 By whatever barometer it measured, be it a capitalist or a communist, the DNA of the Burmese regime is fundamentally brutal and one should mot reward such a capricious regime just for making some superficial changes as releasing just a mere one tenth of the political prisoners and continue to lie the very concept of truth by uttering that there is no political prisoners. Maintaining its rapist army and relying and encouraging the narco related companies to run the economy, not to mention child soldiers, exporting refugees and killings its own people..
The crux of the Burmese Crisis is that its army better known as Myanmar Tatmadaw wants the Myanmar race to be a perpetual colonial power over the ethnic nationalities and not the Pyidoungsu Myanmar Naing Ngan the Union of Burma, which the architect of modern Burma Bogyole Aung San envisaged. The Tatmadaw wants to reign supreme in perpetuity. What more proof is wanted when you join the army, you can never resign, indicating its attempt to hold perpetual control and attract the young people as “The Triumphant Elites of the Future.” a motto that hung on the gates of the Burma Military Academy. Congressman Joseph R.Pitts remarked that “The brutality of Burma’s generals against the ethnic minorities has not stopped, even during this time when they are allegedly making democratic reforms. It has used the advanced light helicopters bought from India on the ethnic nationalities.”
Obama’s willingness to promote democracy around the world – a mission that hark back to Woodrow Wilson days fell short when George W. Bush took on to Iraq, is now back on its track, complimented with its foreign-policy move that the US is a Pacific power and will act with forcefulness required of a superpower’s presence. In this scenario, Burma is but one nation now wary of too close an embrace by an ambitious and aggressive China, and anxious for a balancing relationship with America. Obama’s America needs to add Burma to a list of countries – Vietnam, Philippines, India, Australia, and most of the ASEAN countries that recently sought stronger ties with the United States.
Lying next to India and under the giant belly of China, Burma would be a key plank in the US strategy to reassert influence in Asia, hence the visit of Hillary Clinton to Burma. President Obama, who grew up in Indonesia, seems to understand that the wielding of power in Asia isn’t always the visible kind – besides guns, ships, money, trade, natural resources, norco drugs (in Burma and Mexico) not to count the psyche and rationale of the generals are included in the deciding factors. Perhaps, Burma will test American concepts of power. Two decades of US-led economic sanctions against Burma have done little to loosen the military’s grip or to help the beleaguered the ethnic nationalities.
Factually, t he US has looked to Nobel Peace Prize winner Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as the champion of democracy and rights in Burma. Obama called Ms. Suu Kyi by phone to gain her approval for Mrs. Clinton’s visit. But the US also needs to see more of where Suu Kyi looks for her legitimacy. It isn’t just enough that she is the daughter of Burma’s founder or that she helped rally protesters in the 1988 demonstrations, house arrest for one and half decade and spends time as she can with the behind-the-scenes power in Burma i.e., the Buddhist monks. The much-revered monks were on the front lines of the 1988 protests and again in 2007.
Hundreds, if not thousands have been killed or jailed. Burma’s robed clergy play a powerful role as stewards of a common faith for the Burmese majority. In Burmese history, they have often bestowed or withdrawn legitimacy to a ruler. Their power flows from their followers’ reverence for the way monks display spiritual qualities, such as compassion, humility, and pacifism. The monks’ daily walks among the people to collect alms helps make them moral leaders and identify themselves with the people. That compels the military to fear their influence – and to co-opt or suppress them. China now on the defensive sees the writings on the wall and had sent a Buddhist relic – an alleged tooth of the Buddha – to Burma in November. The tooth was carried by an elephant in high-profile processions in various cities, which delighted the strong man Than Shwe who pulls the strings from behind. It was under his directions that the ruling party and military MPs oppose the adoption of releasing the political prisoners and instead introduce new restrictive laws designed to limit political participation. This is just but one example and hence what rational can we consider to lift the Western Sanctions.
Knowledgeable Burmese who have contact with the regime had warned that far from true changes what the regime really wanted was to follow a path of development perfected by China. The Chinese model, at first glance, is an attractive one for repressive, autocratic leaders: by applying one foot on an economic accelerator and another on a political brake, a regime can bring a better standard of living to citizens without threatening its grip on power. The story of China’s rise over the past two decades has been one of both exuberant growth rates and non-existent political change. The regime is stealthily following this path without much ado.
But the crucial difference between Burma and China is that the Chinese government has unleashed economic reforms that have enriched the lives of hundreds of millions of people. Around 130 million of China’s 1.3 billion citizens may live under the official poverty line (an assessment of $1 a day, which is lower than the World Bank’s $1.25 a day), but one-third of Burma’s 50 million-plus people subsist in poverty. In a single generation, the economic trajectory of many Chinese lives has gone from grim to upbeat.
Elderly Burmese, however, remember how their country used to be one of Asia’s richest and wonder when the real change will come.But the Burmese people are committed to the superiority of the Western-style democracy rather than the proud Chinese whose 5, 000 year old civilization construe that a wise and benevolent ruler with a mandate from heaven. No doubt the new quasi civilian administration of Thein Sein can bring much needed political and social reforms only if he managed to throw off the shackles of Than Shwe whose right hand man Tin Aung Myint Oo is the Vice President. So actions should remain in place as long as the semi-authoritarian regime controls the legislative, administrative, and judicial functions of the new government.
On the other hand the regime is cynically observing the downfall of dictatorships around the globe and is moving before Burma’s long despotic reign comes to the same ugly end. The pragmatic reason for this sudden accommodation with the US is because of the bad breath of the Chinese. From their perspective Burma is placed between the devil and the deep sea and obviously if given a choice they prefer America. These hybrid military-civilian rulers are growing increasingly wary of Beijing’s geopolitical sway—not to mention China’s economic dominance over Burma’s natural resources. No doubt they are endeavoring to find a counter-balance to China. Hence an American charm approach of market reforms, release of political prisoner, stop an all out war to the ethnic nationalities compound with modicum of political liberalizations, should be enforced without any compromise.
Surely the new US engagement policy in the Southeast Asia in general, and Burma in particular, is based on a smart public diplomacy and must be calculated a policy of fairness that support the existing foundation to win the hearts and minds of the people to utilize its role in the region. The US should be highly sensitive to the development of a wider East Asian community, and its policy should not only deal with governments only but the people in the region. It must be people-centered, people-driven and people-oriented that sends an important message to the world that people in the region have the right to freedom and the right to respond and interpret what is understood as fair and unfair as appropriate to them. The people of Burma will surely agree with the WikiLeaks of how US Charge d’Affaires Larry Dinger sent a cable to Washington, “The most senior generals are looking for an escape strategy, they are getting old and want an assurances that, they and their families will retain their assets and will not be prosecuted”.
Even though “Freedom from Fear” was written by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the people of Burma, unlike the Arabs still could not conceptualise that this freedom from fear was the basic human rights. The story of the Tunisian vegetable vendor so humiliated by police that he lit himself on fire, showing the world that his right to human dignity was more precious to him than life itself was not much admired in Burma, even though Phone Maung episode of 1988 sparked that nation’s protests is still fresh on them. Compared with those of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen etc. Burma’s revolution has not been so successful because its soldiers are willing to shoot demonstrators and the monks. For now, the Burmese must continue to “live like free people in an un-free nation,” and perhaps wait for a new generation to achieve liberty. Then and only then, America should think of releasing sanctions.

Source :

This Christmas, Rossland gives the gift of freedom to six Burmese refugees

The Mi family: grandmother Mya, daughter Layi Pon, and mother May.
The Mi family: grandmother Mya, daughter Layi Pon, and mother May.
 Two families of Mon refugees from Burma will soon move to Rossland thanks to the efforts of the West Kootenay Friends of Refugees (WKFR), a community group formed this summer by Rossland residents. Now WKFR will focus on raising funds to support the families for one year after they arrive in 2013.

"The families' applications for sponsorship have been accepted by Citizenship and Immigration Canada," WKFR member Rachael Roussin wrote in a recent press release. "Now the families will undergo extensive background checks, health exams and personal interviews," a process that is expected to last 18 months.

"Because Rossland is a family friendly community," Roussin wrote, "we wanted to sponsor a family rather than an individual. It was important to WKFR that the new residents would choose to stay in Rossland and contribute to the community. With their kids in school, there is a greater probability that the families will want to stay here as opposed to moving to an urban centre."

The Mon are a minority group with ancient roots in Burma. They are among several ethnic minorities who have suffered extreme persecution since a corrupt and brutal military dictatorship took control of Burma in 1962. Nearly fifty years later, the regime still adds daily to its long and bleak list of human rights abuses.

Gross mismanagement by Burma's despots led to student protests in 1988 that were repressed with bullets and beatings that took the lives of hundreds of civilians. The violence triggered widespread protests and the military killed thousands more "communist infiltrators." Martial law was declared and the 1974 Constitution was swept away under the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), an acronym that now conjures images of murder and torture.

In 1989 the military government changed Burma's name to "Myanmar" and moved towards restoring a revised constitution. Multiparty elections were held in May, 1990, and the National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide victory despite having its two leaders, U Tin U and Aung San Suu Kyi — the daughter of national hero Aung San — held under house arrest for a year prior to the election.

But the military wouldn't allow the People's Assembly to convene and kept the NLD's leaders under house arrest. Since that time, little has changed: the military use fear and violence to exert their power as they sell Burma's rich resources to foreign investors. Many people have fled the terrible regime and live in refugee camps in Thailand or Malaysia.

Both families the WKFR have sponsored currently live in refugee camps in Malaysia. The Mi family has been there since October 2006, and the Ma family arrived in December, 2010.

Life is not easy as a refugee, even beyond the day-to-day difficulties of any refugee camp. Malaysian gangs target refugees and there is no chance of settling in Malaysia. Returning to Burma, a land of thousands of political prisoners, is impossible for fear of arrest and further persecution based on ethnicity.

"These families need to find a new country for asylum," said Kathy Moore, who orchestrated the 40-page bureaucratic dance to apply for sponsorship of the refugees through Canadian immigration.

Mi Mya was born in 1956 and worked as a street vendor. She married and had a daughter, Mi May, in 1981. May gave birth to a daughter, Mi Layi Pon, in 2002, the year Mya's husband died. May's husband also died under suspicious circumstances, but no more details were provided. May was forcefully conscripted to cook in a slave labour camp for road construction and a military officer subjected her to "personal violence," Moore said.

Fearing for their safety and the threat of persecution, grandmother Mya, mother May, and daughter Layi Pon fled Burma in 2006. They took ten days to cross the Three Pagoda Pass to Thailand where they were granted refugee status by the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees).

The Ma family have a similar, but more recent story. Ma San Maw was born in 1966, married, and gave birth to a daughter, Banyae Oo, in 1995, and to a son, Nyan Htaw, in 1997.

On Dec. 17, 2010, the military arrested San Maw's husband. Three days later, San Maw was also arrested and put in a detention centre where she endured personal violence at the hands of a military officer. She had a hearing on Dec. 21 and was told to return on Dec. 28. She didn't wait to find out what the charges would be and fled with her two children across the Three Pagoda Pass.

There has been no sign of San Maw's husband, and he is presumed dead. Meanwhile, San Maw has been waiting for a refugee interview with UNHCR — The UN puts claimants for refugee status through a stringent process before officially recognizing them as someone who is outside their country and unable to return due to a "well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion."

While San Maw awaits the UN's scrutiny, all six refugees will soon be subject to Canadian scrutiny, a process that is expected to last 18 months. In the meantime, WKFR will focus on raising donations and community awareness to support the families when they arrive.

"As refugee sponsors," Roussin explained, "WKFR is responsible for covering all living expenses for the first year or until they become financially self-sufficient, whichever comes first. WKFR’s fundraising goal is $20,000 by the time the families arrive in Rossland."

To help reach this goal, they have started an innovative fundraising strategy: people can sign up at the Nelson and District Credit Union to make monthly contributions of any size, with tax receipts provided by the East Kootenay Friends of Burma (EKFB).

The EKFB is a registered charity and society that has sponsored refugees to come to interior BC for 27 years and is the umbrella organization for WKFR, the Nelson Friends of Burma, and the Calgary Friends of Burma. The EKFB is entirely voluntary and all funds collected are put toward refugee sponsorships.

"No donation is too small," Roussin said. Small, automatic monthly donations "make it easy and painless" to contribute to the sponsorships, she said. Moore emphasized, "I'm really hoping people will sign up for five bucks a month, ten bucks a month, forty bucks a month, whatever it is."

The WKFR began soon after a group of Rossland residents were inspired by a presentation given by the EKFB at the home of Kate Mahoney this summer. Mahoney is herself an inspiring Rosslander with 12 years of international experience in post-conflict relief and development, but she is not directly involved with WKFR due to her work with UNHCR.

"I am really pleased with how fast the WKFR have come together,"  Moore said about the group that also includes Susan and Marty Shaw, Jan Micklethwaite, Jana O'Brien, Christine Demarco, Dave Cornelius, and most recently, Nicola Everton.

"It's really exciting, here's something we can do," Moore said. "There are so many big problems in the world. It's small, but hugely meaningful for the people we're helping. We have so much and yet so many people have so little."

"I also think this is a fantastic opportunity for Rossland," Moore added. "We're excited to welcome these kids to Rossland while they're still young enough to go to our high school. It's a great learning opportunity for cultural expansion for the whole town."

To donate or set up monthly contributions, visit the NDCU and reference the account for West Kootenay Friends of Refugees (NDCU #40005710). For more information or to get involved with the West Kootenay Friends of Refugees contact Kathy Moore at 250-362-3319. For more information about refugee sponsorship in general, visit and

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Burma jails Rohingya on immigration charges

 Burma jails Rohingya on immigration charges thumbnail
Rohingya fishermen pull a boat near a refugee camp in Teknaf, Bangladesh. In 1982 Burma passed a law that made it impossible for Rohingya to get full citizenship (Reuters)
A group of Rohingya refugees attempting to reach Malaysia have been given prison sentences of one and a half years each by a Burmese court after their boat ended up on the shores of southern Burma.
The boatload of 63 had travelled from Bangladesh, where up to 300,000 Rohingya reside having fled decades of persecution in their native Arakan state in western Burma. A BBC Burmese report says they were left stranded at sea by their broker 16 kilometres from the coastal town of Kawthaung in Tennasserim division.
Despite the hazardous nature of the journey, hundreds of Rohingya attempt the nearly 2,000-kilometre voyage from Bangladesh to Malaysia each year in search of work. The 63 however are thought to be the first Rohingya jailed under immigration charges in Burma, signifying how government policy works to ensure they are not considered Burmese citizens.
A law passed in 1982 made it impossible for the Muslim minority group to gain citizenship in Burma. The Buddhist government there claims they are of Bengali origin and thus should not be afforded the same rights as Burmese. Various Rohingya advocacy groups argue however that their roots in western Burma can be traced back to before the spread of the now-dominant Theravada Buddhism in the country.
Of the hundreds of thousands living in Bangladesh, only around 28,000 are registered by the UN. Dhaka is concerned that offering official support to all refugees would create a pull-factor for those still living in Arakan state, meaning that the majority eke out a perilous existence in unofficial camps and slums on the edge of Chittagong in eastern Bangladesh.
Following talks in Naypyidaw this week between Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Burmese President Thein Sein, however, the Dhaka-based Financial Express claimed Thein Sein had agreed to take back the refugees “after verifying them and as per the agreed criterion between the two countries”.
Kitty McKinsey, regional spokesperson for the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), said that while in principle she would welcome any positive solution for the Rohingya, “we will wait to see an official government statement confirming this” before drawing any conclusions from the meeting.
Chris Lewa, head of The Arakan Project, which advocates for the rights of the Rohingya, said she doubted whether Hasina’s visit prompted a breakthrough in the protracted issue of whether the Burmese would accept the refugees back, many of whom have been living in Bangladesh for decades.
The issue of the ‘boatpeople’ shot to global attention in January 2009 when a large group that washed up on the Thai coast were towed back out to sea by coastguards and left to die. Thailand last month intercepted another boatload but later released them.

Source :

M’sia overly dependent on foreign workers

Malaysians are relying more on foreign workers and a change of mindset is needed, says Human Resources Minister Dr S Subramaniam.

 PETALING JAYA: We see them everywhere – in restaurants, foodstalls, homes, gardens, construction sites, just to name a few places. We are talking about the ever-present foreign workers.
There are about 3.1 million documented illegal and legal immigrants in the country, and probably more still under the radar screem. The consensus is that Malaysia is facing the problem of having too many foreign workers.
Admitting that this was the “biggest issue” faced by his ministry, Human Resources Minister Dr S Subramaniam said efforts by the government to reduce the numbers have been met with difficulties, including opposition from employers.
“Malaysians have become too dependant on foreign workers. The way forward is for the employers to have a change in their mindsets,” said Subramaniam.
This mindset change, he said, must translate into employers being less labour dependent and more skill dependent.
Subramaniam said many developed countries have gone through this phase and have been able to transform themselves by using less manpower and more machines. He believes Malaysia can change, too.
He said the country is caught in a “vicious cycle” where wages are low and locals don’t want to work.
“And because locals don’t want to work, foreign workers come in, and the more they come in, the more wages won’t increase,” he said, adding that he hopes wage increases would help alleviate this problem.
Subramaniam was speaking to FMT in a recent interview about the foreign worker situation in Malaysia. During the interview, he also spoke about what he thought about cases of foreign maid abuses and how the government was addressing the issue as well as the status of asylum seekers in the country.
Below are excerpts of the interview
What are some of the plans the ministry has for foreign workers?
Ideally, we should be in a situation where we can manage with the minimum number of foreign workers. Unfortunately in Malaysia now, too many sectors have become dependent on foreign workers. Any attempt by the government to reduce it at any stage is met with objection and opposition from employers. And this is the ministry’s biggest issue.
After the 10th Malaysia Plan, the government said, ‘we’ll be able to reduce foreign workers to 1.1 million.’ That was our expectation. Initially, it went to 1.1 million during the economic crisis, but after that, it slowly went back to 1.8 million illegal workers.
If you see the recent registration, we’ve registered 1.3 million illegal workers, along with the 1.8 million legal. This means, we already have 3.1 million foreign workers. And there are also fears that some are still undocumented. As far as we’re concerned, these numbers are huge.
So, how are we dealing with this huge number?
There are two parts of this argument. On one side are the non-employers, whose argument is that ‘we should stop them from coming in’. There is also this concern that the unusual number of foreign workers has led to suppression of wages. Wages are not high in Malaysia, and because wages are low, locals don’t want to work… and because locals don’t want to work, foreign workers come in, and the more foreign workers come in, the more the wages don’t increase. So it becomes a vicious cycle. That is one view.
The other group, the employers, says that ‘we cannot get locals, we’re willing to pay locals higher, but they don’t want to come’. This is is true in particular categories of industries. We are really critically dependent on foreign workers, like plantations; some 90 percent of the harvesters and tappers are foreigners. And the estates are not able to draw the younger generation to take part in this activity.
Likewise in construction, except for locals who are probably independent contractors, foreign workers are the mainstay. Likewise in domestic maids, there are a lot of people who say you can train locals and give opportunities, but nobody wants to go for such training. It’s the nature of the job itself; locals don’t want them.
So we are caught in a bind. These three sectors alone employ nearly 1.2 million people. So we would not be able to reduce (the number of workers) in these three sectors. Then we have the manufacturing sector and service sector, restaurants. When we tell restaurants we are freezing the intake of workers, they say they have to close shops.

By the way, would minimum wage also affect foreign workers?
Yes, the law is such that it would.
How do we enforce these new guidelines for the protection of maids?
To be able to visit these 280,000 homes (with maids) will not be possible. So to a great extent it would be the self-empowerment of the maids themselves. So we will give them all the information needed where they would generally would be able to communicate and contact us for help in case they are being abused. Once we receive such a report, we can take things seriously.

What kind of protection can we offer Myanmar amnesty seekers?
Well those already come under the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), and given official recognition as refugees. Our policy is that we allow them to be here with the hope that they will be resettled in some country (willing to take them) as soon as possible.
But they are not allowed to work and they are constantly harassed by the police.
Well, the police shouldn’t be doing that. I have discussed this problem with the Home Ministry and told them that the asylum seekers need to work to live, otherwise it’s a stress on them. I think the Home Ministry is sympathetic, but they are concerned that by allowing the refugees to work, they would end up staying longer.

Source : FreeMalaysia