Thousands of Christian refugees may be forced to return to Burma

( [email protected] ) Mar 27, 2004 03:43 PM EST

An English newspaper in Thailand reported on Tuesday that the Thai government will no longer allow the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) to grant any legal status to asylum seekers from Burma. The decision may affect the estimated 200,000 Christian Karen refugees from Burma currently living in refugee camps in Thailand.

Many feel the most recent decision is yet another crackdown in a series of actions recently taken by Thailand in cooperation with Burma to reduce the activities and movements of Burmese democracy activists and refugees—Karen Christian refugees in particular.

The Karen, Thai people inhabiting southern and eastern Myanmar (Burma), have been victims of a brutal campaign to pacify their people as well as other ethnic minorities by the Burma government, officially titled the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) along with the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), a government supported faction supporting the government’s take over of the Karen territory. While these actions seem to be motivated by ethnic considerations, the religious nature of some of these incidents has indicated that there is an element of religious persecution. The Karen and Chin people for example have a large Christian constituency and are heavily persecuted. Religion and ethnicity are thus considered linked. Many members of these ethic groups have fled to Thailand, where they have been relocated in camps. SPDC and DKBA forces have on multiple occasions crossed the border to raid these camps in an effort to get the people to return to their villages.

The UNHCR had recently granted “Persons of Concern” (POC) status for about 1,600 asylum seekers from Burma, which basically entitles refugees to a small sum of financial support and travel freedoms. POC status also offers the hope of the possibility of being resettled to places such as the United States, Canada, or Australia. The US has indicated an interest in allowing refugees from Burma resettlement within its borders, but this latest move by Thailand all but shuts the door. Few, if any, of the Karen refugees living in campus in Thailand have POC Status.

Christian Freedom International (CFI), a nonprofit, nonpartisan Christian human rights organization is currently working with policymakers in Washington on behalf of the Karen to ensure that the refugees will not be sent back to Burma where they face almost certain death.

CFI urges supporters to call US members of Congress on behalf of Karen refugees, urging them to do whatever they can to allow the refugees to stay in Thailand or be resettled in the US.

[Sources: Christian Freedom International/International Christian Concern]