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Karen REFUGEES FEAR T he Baptist World Forced Repatriation Alliance hosted a Karen delegation at its international offi ces in August

to discuss issues related to confl icts and displaced persons in and outside of Myanmar. The Karen are one of several ethnic groups in armed confl ict with the Myanmar government since 1949, making it one of the longest ongoing armed struggles in the world. There are an estimated 130,000 t o 150,000 Karen and Karenni (a subgroup of the Karen people) refugees in nine refugee camps in Thailand. In January 2012, a ceasefi re agreement was signed between the Karen National Union, the political wing of the Karen resistance, and the Myanmar government. Since then, there has been a push for the repatriation of Karen and Karenni living in refugee camps in Thailand. The delegation visiting the BWA expressed strong reservations about government plans for repatriation. Many landmines are still in the areas where repatriation would take place and these mines need to be cleared. There is fear that those repatriated would be living in camps set up by the government. There are an estimated 300,000 internally displaced Karen and Karenni in eastern Myanmar, many living in camps built by the government. The fear is that those repatriated will end up in similar camps. There is no point, in the view of the Karen delegation, for refugees to swap living in one camp for another where it is suspected they would be under the strong control and close scrutiny of the government. The government has not made a commitment to return lands

Members of the Karen delegation that visited the BWA offi ces in Virginia and the UN Headquarters in New York

The pressure for repatriation from all quarters

is being intensifi ed, the BWA was told. Rations given to refugees are being drastically reduced. Monthly rations for rice decreased from 16 kilograms per person to 12 kilograms per person. Rumors are that next year there will be further reductions

to 10 kilograms per nongovernment person. The

pressure to return to Myanmar comes not just from the government of Thailand but also from international


which decreased their aid to refugees in Thailand while opening offi ces in Myanmar where they are placing more resources. There is fear that many of the things needed to enable refugees to resettle would not be in place, such as a police force, lawyers, healthcare workers, hospitals, health clinics, schools and teachers.

confi scated from the Karen. Reports are that about 3,000 Karen villages have been destroyed by the Myanmar military. Even during the peace talks the government expanded its control of Karen territory, taking even more Karen lands. Much of the Karen lands are rich in minerals such as gems and timber, including teak. It is suspected that these form part of the reason for government repression against the Karen and the appropriation of their land. The delegation also raised the issue of lands confi scated from Karen churches and church organizations, such as church compounds and schools, during the 1962 militarization of the country. Some 30 percent to 40 percent of the Karen people are Baptists. The Karen Baptist Convention wants the return of these properties.

Many Karen refugees and other displaced persons are still traumatized by their experiences at the hands of the Myanmar military that led them to fl ee their homes. Too many are not yet ready to see the faces of those who executed or tortured their loved ones. The Myanmar government is still fi ghting with the Kachin, another

ethnic group also in armed confl ict with the government. It is diffi cult to accept at face value the government offer of peace when it is still fi ghting the Kachin. There is the need for a nationwide ceasefi re, the delegation stated. Many Kachin, like the Karen, are Baptists. There is great mistrust of the Myanmar government’s real intentions and motives. The Karen have not been included in discussions or decisions on repatriation. Cross border organizations (CBOs) such as the Karen Women’s Organization and refugee representative groups such as the Karen Refugee Committee have been excluded, not just by the governments of Myanmar and Thailand, but also by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. There is need for the Karen to be part of the conversation about their future, the delegation insisted.


BWA fulfi lled a request to assist the delegation to meet with

One week after the meetings were held, the various groups at the


Nations Headquarters in New York City. Darrell Armstrong, BWA representative at the UN, helped the delegation to meet with the UN Offi ce of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN missions for Japan and Sweden. The BWA, through the divisions of Freedom and Justice and Baptist World Aid, offered future support where possible.

Syrian Refugees By Alia Abboud


s the Syria crisis intensifi es, an average of 8,000 people are estimated to cross the Syrian borders daily to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq. On July 15 the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported the presence of more than 1,778,000 registered Syrian refugees, out of which more than 610,000 are in Lebanon, a country with a total population of slightly over four million Lebanese, but with the largest concentration of unregistered Syrian refugees whose numbers are not included in the aforementioned fi gures. The Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development (LSESD) humanitarian response to the Syria crisis that started in the summer of 2011 continues in partnership with local churches and

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