A campaign to wipe out Christians and ethnic minority groups in Myanmar is creating a refugee crisis and new challenges for the U.S. government.

According to a leaked document obtained by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Myanmar's military regime has embarked on a plan to rid the country of Christians through force and persuasion.

"The Christian religion is very gentle—identify and utilize its weakness," explains the plan, titled "Program to Destroy the Christian Religion in Burma."

The document, believed to have originated in the Ministry of Religious Affairs, circulated widely in the capital city of Yangon.

"Virtually every kind of human-rights violation is taking place," said Benedict Rogers, CSW's advocacy officer for South Asia. Rogers and activists from Myanmar recently visited Washington, D.C., as part of a worldwide tour to brief senior officials on the plight of minorities in the country, formerly known as Burma.

In February, the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper published statements from the Myanmar Council of Churches and Catholic Bishops Conference that denounced the CSW report. However, Rogers said these groups have not always supported government religious policy. In 1999, they reported that government officials had expelled ministers, arrested Christians, compelled them to renounce their faith, and prohibited them from evangelizing and worshiping.

Ethnicity, religion, and politics combine to fuel a civil war between the government and minority ethnic groups. Myanmar's military rulers wield Buddhism as a political weapon against predominantly Christian minority ethnic groups, such as the Karen, Chin, and Kachin.

Human-rights groups estimate that at least 500,000 displaced persons take refuge in eastern Myanmar along the border with Thailand. Another 140,000 live in nine refugee camps in Thailand. Most of these refugees are Christians with connections to the Karen National Union (KNU), which has been fighting the military regime for independence.

While the U.S. government has sought to resettle small numbers of persecuted refugees on American soil, antiterrorism laws have blocked many from entering. The U.S. Patriot Act classifies as terrorists those refugees who have offered "material support" to an armed rebel group.

"These are people who are … supporting groups that are protecting them from being slaughtered by a dictatorial regime," said Edward Neufville, a lawyer who is seeking U.S. asylum for two Chin refugees.

"The government is slowly recognizing the problems with the law, but they don't want to be accused of being soft on terrorism. In the meantime, those most in need of protection are suffering."

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Last year, the U.S. government granted special waivers to more than 1,800 mostly Karen refugees and resettled them. After Christian organizations protested that the government unfairly excluded many refugees, the Department of Homeland Security announced in January it would consider applications from refugees who provided material support "while under duress." It also announced that the agency would exercise discretion with regard to eight groups, including the KNU, when considering material support cases.

According to Jenny Hwang, director of advocacy and policy for World Relief's refugee and immigration program, the Department of Homeland Security can waive the rule "for those who gave material support to the KNU," but the department cannot waive the rule for "those who were actual members or combatants."

News of Myanmar's continued campaign against Christians, Hwang said, will "provide a greater sense of urgency for the United States to start resettling refugees in larger numbers."

Related Elsewhere:

'Program to Destroy the Christian Religion in Burma' was first obtained by Christian Solidarity Worldwide, which has other articles under 'Burma.'

Mainstream media coverage of the leaked document includes:

Burma 'orders Christians to be wiped out' | The military regime in Burma is intent on wiping out Christianity in the country, according to claims in a secret document believed to have been leaked from a government ministry. (The Sunday Telegraph)
Myanmar's military government denies suppressing Christians | Myanmar's military government denied on Wednesday that it suppresses Christians, saying all citizens enjoy religious freedom and that a recent report by a British group was aimed at tarnishing the country's image. (The Associated Press)

Other Christianity Today articles on Myanmar and the Burmese people include:

The Town that Loves Refugees | Christians in Utica, New York are resettling the world one displaced soul at a time. (February 15, 2007)
Red-Light Rescue | The 'business' of helping the sexually exploited help themselves. (December 19, 2006)
Homeland Security's Catch-22 for Exiles | 'Ridiculous' interpretation of law bars thousands. (May 1, 2006)
Burma's Almost Forgotten | Christians find themselves battered by the world's longest civil war and a brutally repressive regime. (March 1, 2004)
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Compassion Confusion | We should serve the needy even when it has bad political consequences. (Aug. 28, 2001)
The Homeless Church of Myanmar | In, after decades of cruel military regimes, democratic elections were held in Myanmar, and the National League for Democracy party won with over 80 percent of the vote. The military ignored 1990 the election results, seized control, and has set up the illegitimate (and wrongly named) State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) government. (Oct. 5, 1998)
Ethnic Politics Suppresses Outreach | The stunning success of Christian outreach among some ethnic minorities in Asia has fueled religious resentment and repression. (May 19, 1997)

Christian History & Biography has an issue on Adoniram Judson, a missionary to the Burmese.

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