Mission in Myanmar (Burma): Very Challenging, but not Impossible

The minority communities of Myanmar (Burma) are among the most oppressed in the world. Global Ministries is offering some reason to hope.

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Current students at Myanmar Institute of Theology participating in the new Doctor of Ministry Program which we are supporting
The minority communities of Myanmar (Burma) are among the most oppressed in the world. Global Ministries is offering some reason to hope.

Continuing Challenges in Myanmar (Burma) and How You Can Make a Difference

Recent reports coming out of Myanmar and Thailand on the status of refugees and internally displaced people indicate that the situation that has been disastrous for many years is getting worse.

The State Peace and Development Council is the current name of the totalitarian regime which is running the country. Myanmar has many ethnic groups and tribes, but the Burman people are the dominant ethnic group. In the past many of the minority ethnic groups agitated for independence. Most are now prepared to be part of Myanmar, but want human rights and equal opportunity. The SPDC, however, is suspicious that all non-Burmese are scheming against their regime and has consistently used extremely repressive measures to keep these populations oppressed and on the run.

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Women and children of the Karen ethnic group who are suffering under the current regime
In Shattering Silences (2005) the Karen Women’s Organization gave extensive reports of the ways that women are violated routinely by the Myanmar military. Rape, beatings, forced labor and murder are common. Military persons freely enter homes and requisition whatever meager resources a woman has to support her family, abuse the woman (or women) and leave her with nothing for family support. The military personnel carry written orders from the SPDC requiring compliance with these tactics. Women and children are commonly forced to be porters for the military and must carry their supplies over mountainous terrain for weeks or months. The women who are porters by day are routinely raped by the soldiers at night. Many of these women have families they are forced to leave behind. Shattering Silences offers recommendation to foreign States and to the United Nations:

To States

  1. To press for a nationwide cease-fire and demilitarization and withdrawal of troops in ethnic nationalities areas in Myanmar (Burma);
  2. To press for Tripartite Dialogue, and insist that measurable progress towards democracy and national reconciliation is made;
  3. To press the SPDC to implement the resolutions passed by the Commission on Human Rights and to comply with the recommendations made by the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women;

To the United Nations

  1. UN agencies operating in Myanmar, to bear witness publicly to the atrocities committed by the SPDC; The public visibility of these violations is critical to ensuring accountability.
  2. UNHCR to prioritize processing women who have suffered sexual and gender based violence and support community-based organizations providing services for their recovery.
  3. UNCHR to pass a specific resolution condemning the sexual and gender based violations by the SPDC military of women in Myanmar and calling for redress.

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A home that was burned by the military
There are roughly half a million refugees from the Myanmar militaries campaigns against minority ethnic groups now living along the Thai-Myanmar Border. A recent update from the Thai Burma (Myanmar) Border Consortium, a Global Ministries partner, indicates that they are serving a caseload of approximately 155,000. Reductions in funding have led to adjustments in the levels of support that can be offered to refugees. One of every five children in these camps is severely malnourished, but food rations are likely to be cut in the next few months if financial support does not increase. The U.S. Government has understandably become very strict about not admitting refugees to this country who may have given material support to any organizations which the U.S. defines as terrorist. Unfortunately many of the refugees from Myanmar have, under threat of life and limb, been forced to assist the SPDC (which the U.S. Government recognizes as a terrorist organization) in some way and the U.S. has not been taking into account the circumstances under which these applicants for refugee status may have provided such aid.

Many children in Myanmar are vulnerable to child trafficking. Traffickers approach parents and offer to take their children to Thailand and to get them a job as a housekeeper and put them in a good school. They often pay the parents a fee which they say they will recover out of the earnings of the child in Thailand. The young girls are usually taken to the brothels and are kept in bondage. Boys are also forced into slavery of various kinds.

There is a serious lack of international clarity about how to improve the human rights situation and opportunities for the people of Myanmar. Democracy activist Aung San Su Kyi has been under house arrest in Myanmar for most of the last 15 years – since she was elected to the presidency in an election which the regime refused to honor. There has been widespread concern that offering aid to support development and human rights programs in Myanmar would be seen as support for the regime. It was also a risk that any aid sent might not reach the programs for which it was intended, but be redirected to support the military. Global Ministries’ partner the Myanmar Council of Churches has programs in literacy, rural development, women’s rights, HIV/AIDS education, water resource development/sanitation and prevention of child-trafficking which we support.

Refugees International has released a report Ending the Waiting Game (2006) which makes the case that the people of Myanmar can no longer wait for the attention of the international community. This report makes four major claims: (1) Aid is needed to respond to humanitarian crises on multiple fronts and control their spread in the region; (2) Aid is required to build the capacity of community-based organizations and non-governmental organizations which can access areas that are off limits to international organizations; (3) Aid can lay the foundation for democracy and contribute to a “bottom-up” social and political transformation; and (4) Aid can help create a national identity and be used for conflict resolution and peace-building initiatives.

Global Ministries is supporting the refugee work of the Thai Burma Border Consortium; the ministries of the Myanmar Council of Churches; the development of a Doctorate of Ministry program at the Myanmar Institute of Theology; the studies of a medical student (Maung Taing San) who plans to return to Myanmar to serve the rural hill people); and is providing scholarships for Myanmar students who are studying in the Philippines and plan to return to Myanmar when they complete their studies.

How to Make a Difference

  1. Pray for the people of Myanmar who are enduring the oppression and for those who have escaped into Thailand but live as refugees with few options for rebuilding their lives.
  2. Inform your representatives and senators about your concern for these people and the ways that U.S. policies neither contribute toward promptly ending the rule of the SPDC nor allow compassionate and supportive engagement with the oppressed people in Myanmar. Also inform them of your concern that policies concerning evaluation of refugees need to take into account that some contributions of material aid to terrorist bodies happens forcibly and that the individuals who have been forced to support the SPDC should not be prevented from seeking refugee status.

Make Donations through Wider Church Ministries or Division of Overseas Ministries for refugee relief, development ministries or educational support for our partners working with the oppressed people of Myanmar.

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