What Burma's Chin Refugees Need Beyond Aung San Suu Kyi
For over 60 years, a military regime has ruled over Burma (Myanmar). Its people know intimately what it means to be discriminated against, religiously persecuted, and beaten for one's ethnicity. But yesterday Sunday, April 1, the Burmese people voted for more than 40 vacant parliamentary seats. It's the first election in over 20 years in which the National League of Democracy (NLD) participated, and it won the majority of the available seats. NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi won her race for a seat in the lower house of parliament. She was placed under house arrest for 15 years for her strong, peaceful leadership in Burma. As the Nobel Peace Prize laureate in 1991, Aung San Suu Kyi has led the Burmese people in resisting military rule in her country. She has fallen ill recently after weeks of hard campaigning, but she still embodies her people's great hope for a democratic, free, and resilient Burma.
Sunday's election seems to indicate that Burma's government is willing to reform in order to be accepted by the international community. But while these elections and the recent release of political prisoners are signs of progress, many have had longstanding concerns that there has been no peace between the military regime and the ethnic minority areas of Burma. In the past couple decades, the Karen, Kachin, Shan, Chin, Rohingya, and other ethnic minorities have fled en masse to neighboring Thailand, Malaysia, and India.
In fact, the presence of so many refugees in surrounding countries is a telltale sign that a decent, functioning government is absent from the countries from which they fled. Over bamboo stilts and tiny 4×6 houses, these refugees have lived, in some cases for over two decades, in areas with limited running water, in overcrowded, insecure refugee camps, and at the mercy of the host community.
Last year, I visited Mizoram State, India, now home to over 100,000 refugees who have fled Chin State, Burma, over two decades. This rugged, remote area of India is the country's largest Christian state, with 95 percent of its 1 million citizens identifying as Christians. In fact, the church is the state's strongest institution, providing much-needed social services through hospitals, orphanages, and schools. However, the Indian government had restricted access to this area for years. I had heard about these refugees' plight for years through the Chin community who were resettled to the United States and still had friends and relatives living in India. When India's government lifted travel restrictions to the area, I went and met with the local community hosting the refugees and the refugees themselves.
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