Ethnic minorities are leaving Burma by the thousands due to the great oppression they face under the military regime Tatmadaw. Burma was under colonial rule from 1885-1948. Since the beginning of its independence, Burma has been ruled by three major government forms: democratic (1948-1962), military socialist (1962-1988), and “transitional military rule” (1988-present) (Smith 2002: 8). In 1989 the Tatmadaw regime changed the name of Burma to Myanmar. Because the United States does not accept the legitimacy of the military regime, it refuses to accept the change in name. We will refer to the country as Burma.
Throughout Burma’s history as an independent nation, minority groups have been targeted by the ruling majority and have responded with insurgency. While colonized, Burma saw the division of its ethnic minorities due to Britain’s “divide and rule” tactic (Smith 2002: 6). Dichotomous ethnic groups such as Shans, Karens, Arakanese, Kachins, Chins, Mons, and many other smaller indigenous groups form about 30% of the estimated 52 million people living in Burma (Background Note: Burma:2006). Minority groups such as these have been forcefully relocated from their homes, and threatened with their lives if they do not comply with the authoritarian government and move to the predetermined resettlement locations. Between 1996 and 1998, the Burmese government relocated an estimated 1,400 Shan villages by force (Grundy-Warr 2002: 102). Throughout Burma, over 1 million people have been displaced without compensation since 1988 (Grundy-Warr 2002: 96). The relocations are supported by the Burmese military regime, which seeks a “ 'unified’ national entity” with a “ 'Burman’ national character” (Grundy-Warr 2002: 97). The military regime took power in 1962 and has been pursuing its goal ever since by purging the country of unwanted ethnic minorities. Since 1948, the Karens have been tageted due to their resistence and efforts to create an autonomous Karen state (Demusz 1998: 234).
Conditions for relocated Burmese are
harsh, as are the relocations themselves. People are sometimes beaten,
to death, or shot during the relocations. Once those being relocated
are in the
“strategic hamlets” the food and work situations
are grave. Relocated villagers
struggle to get enough food on the unsustainable land and often the
food that they are
able to grow is confiscated by the Tamadaw. Forced labor
further prevents the people from becoming self sufficient. The
are also required to obtain a permit to travel outside the strategic
These permits are very difficult to get, and they further restrict
ability to sustain themselves (Grundy-Warr 2002: 105). Because of these
relocations, dismal living conditions, and forced labor, many
people attempt to
emigrate from Burma, particularly to neighboring Thailand.
Today, more than one million Burmese live in neighboring countries as illegal immigrants or refugees and 500,000 are internally displaced (Woodrum 2006). Beginning in November of last year, however, the violent attacks launched by the Burmese military regime, on the Karen population in particular, have become more prevalent. Worldwide, the number of asylum seekers from Burma increased from 12,000 to 55,000 between 2004 and 2005 (Woodrum 2006).
While most Burmese refugees were forced across the border into Thailand and neighboring countries, some were permitted to immigrate to the United States (Bamforth 2000). Many of the U.S. bound Burmese refugees seek housing and support in Minnesota because of the humanitarian work done by Minnesota churches, specifically Catholic Charities. Additionally the International Institute of Minnesota and Minnesota Council of Churches provide substantial aid in Burmese refugee camps in Asia (Joshi 2005). Other Burmese refugees insist on coming to the United States instead of, for example, Europe, because they want to avoid isolation and to seek community support (Joshi 2005). The Burmese community in the United States is developing and, while established communities are few, the rate of Burmese immigration to the US is steadily increasing.
religious organizations have helped resettle Burmese refugees since
arriving in 2000 (Joshi 2005). The
Cities are now home to around 500 Burmese refugees with 200-300 more
expected to arrive in the next 18 months
(Nelson 2004). Most of the
Burmese refugees who settle in the Twin Cities are Karenni (Nelson
2004). The increased population of Karen refugees in the Twin Cities
greatly enhances the potential for more Karen refugees to settle in Minnesota
and governmental attitude has been impacted by the colonial rule of the
well as the Japanese,
especially in terms of the vision of government
gained as a result. At the heart of Burman political
culture was the ‘Burmese monarchy…the king was so
intimately connected with
Buddhism, that until the last monarch was exiled, and foreign
rulers took over, it was inconceivable for anyone to consider the
the faith and the kingdom without a king to protect both,’
14). In addition, Buddism has played a significant role in shaping the
Burmese culture and government. The
religion has influenced
Burmese thought in terms of political values as well as societal
of this year, the UN Security Council agreed to place the Burmese
their agenda of issues to address in the near future (Woodrun 2006). This is evidence that the
human rights violations, failure to address the spread of HIV/AIDS, and
trafficking have serious implications for not only Burma,
but the surrounding
countries as well. Due to support from powers within the region, it
unlikely that Burma’s
political situation would change despite the sanctions by Western
countries (Kurlantzick 2004: 188).
However, in the past year the Association of South East Asian Nations
has changed its attitude toward Burma.
The actions of the Tatmadow regime
pose problems for the
entire region and Burma’s
membership in ASEAN has been suspended until the junta, the military
dictatorship, makes steps towards political liberalization.
back to colonial times,
Burmese people have been stratified among ethnic lines. The Tatmadaw military regime, which has been
ruling the country for
nearly twenty years, has caused Burma
to undergo increasing economic hardship. The state’s
unwillingness to adopt
democratic practices has negative implications for both native Burmese
surrounding countries. In an effort to create a singular national
junta has forcibly relocated millions of people. Due to poor standards
living and atrocious human rights violations, members of the numerous
groups are now fleeing the country. The intolerance of the Tatmadaw causes persecuted groups to seek
refuge in other
countries. While many have relocated to neighboring states, the appeal
humanitarian aid attracts Burmese to the Twin Cities region where there
growing population from which they can seek community support.
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