About 9,500 Burmese refugees have had their resettlement to the U.S. postponed indefinitely. They were scheduled to be resettled this year, but now have to wait for a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) waiver.
The problem is that the refugees, members of a largely Christian ethnic minority in Myanmar (formerly Burma), are suspected of providing "material support" to a rebel army, the Karen National Union (KNU). For more than 40 years, this army has been fighting Myanmar's Buddhist-friendly military regime, which, according to Operation World, is seeking to marginalize or even eliminate Christianity. Many Burmese refugees have family members in the KNU or have lived in areas under its control.
According to Jenny Hwang, World Relief's advocacy and policy coordinator for refugees and immigration, the laws fail to distinguish between freedom fighters and terrorist groups. "The interpretation is so general and so broad," Hwang said, "that it is ridiculous."
The U.S. Patriot Act and the 2005 real ID Act (see "Death Sentence?" April 2005, p. 26) expanded the definitions of terrorist activity. Refugees who have offered assistancealbeit indirect or involuntaryto a group that engages in violence can no longer enter the country.
As a result, DHS has barred nearly 12,000 refugees from Myanmar, Colombia, Vietnam, Somalia, and Cuba due to material support violations, according to World Relief reports. Colombian refugees were among the first to run afoul of the provision in 2005, because groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) had forced many to pay taxes or provide lodging or provision.
"Ironically, for many of these refugees, the very circumstances that form the basis of their refugee/asylum claim have ...1
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