Thousands of Christian Orphans Remain Stuck in Thailand

Christian Freedom International, which has been working along the Burma-Thailand border for almost ten years now, reports that a ‘loophole’ in immigration law has prevented thousands of Christian orph
( [email protected] ) Aug 25, 2004 09:41 PM EDT

Thousands of mostly Christian Karen and Karenni orphans have no opportunity to be adopted because of a "loophole" in immigration law, reported a Christian human rights organization. According to Virginia-based Christian Freedom International, tens of thousands of Karen and Karenni men, women, and children who have fled persecution by the military dictatorship of Burma are living in refugee camps in Thailand with insufficient medical care and scarce opportunities for work or education.

In a recent news release made by Christian Freedom International (CFI), CFI President Jim Jacobson rebuked the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the U.S. State Department “for allowing this nightmare to continue year after year.”

For almost ten years now, CFI has been working along the Burma-Thailand border.

"The orphans literally fall between this unbelievable legal crack," Jacobson said.

CFI reported that since Thailand is not a signatory to international conventions on the treatment of refugees, the UN agency with jurisdiction would not "technically" classify the Karen and Karenni as refugees. Instead they are classified as something known as "Externally Displaced Persons" or "EDPs" by the UNHCR and the U.S. government.

As an "official" refugee an individual has certain legal rights such as the possibility of being resettled to the United States, Canada, Australia or elsewhere. And in the case of orphaned children, there is the possibility of adoption.

But Karen and Karenni "EDPs" have no rights, Jacobsen said. "Burma will not recognize the Karen and Karenni as Burmese nationals. Thailand will not recognize them as Thai nationals- even though thousands have been born and raised in the Thai camps. They are truly stateless people, stuck between a rock and a hard place."

"Even worse," Jacobson added, "bureaucratic red tape and indifference by the UNHCR and U.S. State Department keep these refugees languishing in what are essentially bamboo prison camps. Nobody, anywhere, should have to live like this."

Continuing, Jacobson said, "Each year I continue to press the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, and the UNHCR in Mae Sot to allow these stateless children to be adopted. Each year they tell me they will look into it, but ultimately they never do anything.

"I've literally watched orphaned children grow into adults since coming to the region almost ten years ago," said Jacobson.

Currently, CFI operates several orphanages in the refugee camps and runs a vocational-dormitory school for Karen and Karenni orphans from Burma in Mae Sot, Thailand.

CFI also runs field hospitals, clinics, backpack medic teams, and schools in the jungle war- zones of Burma, treating more than 125,000 displaced men, women, and children a year.

"It is time for this bureaucratic logjam—this nightmare—to end. We are in touch with many American families willing and able to adopt these orphans, but cannot because of a 'technicality.' The UNHCR and the U.S. State Department could solve this administratively with the stroke of a pen if they had the will," said Jacobson.

"Somehow we will have to find a way to bring more pressure on UN and State Department bureaucrats to do what is right for oppressed, stateless orphans from Burma," Jacobson said.

CFI is lobbying the U.S. government and UN agencies to recognize the rights of “stateless persons” such as the mostly Christian Karen and Karenni of Burma. They report that Jacobson will be visiting Capital Hill tomorrow for most of the day visiting with Hill staffers regarding the adoption of Karen and Karenni orphans from Burma and the situation for Christians in Iraq.

The Karen and Karenni, an ethnic groups with a significant Christian population, have been fighting for survival ever since World War II. Meanwhile, CFI reports that the military dictatorship of Burma continues its genocidal campaign against them.