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|Burmese Refugees: End the Exploitation of Burmese in Thailand (.pdf)||166.25 KB|
The recent government crackdown on demonstrations by monks and common people inside Burma focused the world’s attention on the ongoing human rights and humanitarian catastrophe there.
After years of internal conflict and repression, 500,000 have been displaced internally and an estimated three million seek sanctuary and livelihoods in neighboring countries. Thailand and other countries in the region are already straining to handle the Burmese exodus. Without international pressure on the Burmese government to encourage national reconciliation and resumption of the rule of law, more refugees and migrant workers will flee. This creates a potential threat to regional stability, given the already heavily strained economic and social infrastructure in neighboring states.
1. Targeted Sanctions on the Burmese Leadership
The Burmese government continues to exploit its people through forced labor and conscription, excessive taxation, physical and sexual abuse, and restrictions on political and economic freedom. The military junta, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), is extracting the country’s natural resources and using the proceeds for excessive military and security programs, expensive capitol projects and corruption, while decreasing support to health, education and food production. Ultimately, without change in Burma, the thousands who have fled cannot return. Because of increased security, the use of technology to track down the opposition, and the regime’s control of much of the border, refugee flows may become smaller, but the vulnerability of the Burmese people will remain high.
In reaction to international condemnation of the brutal attack on demonstrators and the threats of new sanctions on the regime, the SPDC has accepted visits of the UN special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, and the return of the Human Rights Commission envoy, Paulo Pinheiro. But to convince the aging leadership in Burma that the international community is serious about the need for a timely political settlement and national reconciliation, the United States, ASEAN members, and other governments need to increase pressure on the current government by enacting smart sanctions that target the generals and not the suffering people of Burma. Examples of smart sanctions include: banning the import of all gem stones; barring additional international financing and insurance of new major construction projects in Burma until there is a change in government; freezing the bank accounts of SPDC leaders and denying them and their families travel visas.
2. Increase Cross-Border Programs and Humanitarian Assistance Inside Burma
In speaking with new arrivals from Burma, Refugees International was struck by the stories of the grave humanitarian situation and economic privation so many Burmese endure, with per capita national incomes falling to $220 a year and one-third of children under five malnourished. Indeed, this crisis led the Buddhist monks to take to the streets because, as one refugee monk organizer explained, “The people are hurting.” The U.S. has not supported increased humanitarian assistance inside Burma even through reputable non-governmental and international organizations are delivering aid. The President’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2008 would substantially reduce even cross-border humanitarian assistance from $11 million to $4 million despite increasing need.
Humanitarian aid is needed to build the capacity of community-based and other non-governmental organizations that can access areas of need that cannot be reached by international organizations and cross-border aid. While the government of Burma is responsible for the massive humanitarian problems inside the country, people cannot wait for a civilian government before they are assisted. Targeted humanitarian aid through independent organizations would decrease suffering, lessen the need for tens of thousands more Burmese to flee the country, and help build the political space to accommodate the steps required for a return to a more open society.
Read key facts on increasing aid to Burmese refugees.
3. Reducing Barriers to Burmese Resettlement
In 2005 the United States generously offered to resettle 60,000 Burmese refugees over five years, but this offer was almost immediately undercut by legal restrictions in the Patriot and Real ID Acts. This legislation bars U.S. admission of any person deemed to be providing material support to any group deemed to be “terrorist,” or working to overthrow repressive governments, including Burma’s.
The Departments of State and Homeland Security have since agreed to give waivers for otherwise eligible Burmese Chin, Karen and Karenni applicants. But the U.S. continues to ban the admission of leaders of these groups or anyone who participated in armed actions or received military training, even many years ago. In Tham Hin camp alone, 800 people were refused admission and hundreds feared applying. These families face the terrible choice of permanently separating from loved ones to resettle in the U.S., or remaining in camp. The Administration supports legislation, H.R. 2940, to fix the material support provisions, but more efforts are needed to encourage passage of this important legislation to correct the overly broad definition of “terrorist organizations” and give greater discretion to the Department of Homeland Security to admit refugees of concern who present no security threat to the U.S.
Read key facts on reducing barriers to resettlement for Burmese refugees.
4. Restoring Access to Temporary Asylum for Burmese
Since the mid-1980s, Thailand has tried to deter Burmese refugees and maintain austere, unattractive conditions for those admitted. At present, 140,000 Burmese are registered in refugee camps, called “temporary shelters,” while 10-15,000 more have moved in without screening. An additional 1.5 to 2 million other Burmese also have fled into Thailand seeking safety and survival. At least 200,000 of these, including those of Shan ethnicity, are refugees and should be so treated, but few, including former political prisoners, have been able to obtain formal recognition, move into the overcrowded camps, or receive assistance and protection elsewhere. Instead, these victims of Burmese exploitation face further exploitation in Thailand as “illegal aliens” and are constantly threatened with arrest and deportation. They must pay heavy bribes or risk being deported to be sold into servitude by labor brokers working for fishing boats and other businesses or, worse yet, being turned over to the Burmese government. “I have been here four months and have had to pay four bribes to remain free,” one former political prisoner told Refugees International. “I did not expect this to happen….if I am returned to the SPDC, it is a death sentence.”
Thailand needs to establish and operate a screening system utilizing internationally accepted refugee standards to permit old and new asylum seekers to present their cases to a transparent government system that would grant successful applicants the documented ability to remain in Thailand or seek resettlement. Recognized refugees and all camp residents should be permitted to work to increase their self reliance with the ability to access education and training opportunities both in and out of the camps. Given the current crisis in Burma, the government of Thailand must improve the Provincial Admissions Boards, the government’s refugee status determination bodies. Meanwhile, the government should allow UNHCR to register new arrivals and high profile protection cases (like defectors, demonstration organizers and leaders), have access to detention centers, and play an active role in assistance and protection of applicants until such cases are resolved.