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Myanmar refugees seek peace amidst rising human rights abuse in the war-torn country 

Myanmar. Photo:Britanica

Seng Du, a Burmese Christian forced to leave his native land, now known as Myanmar at the age of 14 following the killing of his father in one of the uprisings in the country is tired of war and want peace.

One of thousands in exile, Seng Du whose church provides relief materials to Myanmas who have been forced to leave their homes amidst the violence rocking the Southeast Asian country, shortages of food and other basic supplies lamented that some of those fleeing the country recently have been living under sub-human conditions while being exploited by labour traffickers and employers.

Many of them had fled Myanmar in the wake of the 2021 coup in which the democratically elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi was ousted by the military and sentenced to 33 years in jail during secretive trials; cracked down on anti-coup protests; arrests of journalists and political prisoners; and the execution of several leading pro-democracy activists.

Aung San Suu Kyi won Myanmar’s 2020 election, but in February 2021, the army seized power and threw her in jail. Photo: wikipedia

According to UN Human Rights, A staggering further 1.2 million people have been internally displaced, and over 70,000 have left the country – joining over one million others, including the bulk of the country’s Rohingya Muslims who fled sustained persecution and attacks over the past decades.

In a chat with Multinational Journalists participating in the 2023 Senior Journalists Seminar of the East West Center across locations in the United States, Indonesia and Thailand, Seng Du and many other Burmese living outside the war-ravaged country feel that the rest of the World has forgotten Myanmar.

They want the international community, especially the media to focus more on war crimes, particularly gross abuse of human rights being committed by the ruling junta causing more and more people to flee.

“Many of them sleep in shanties at the border and scavenge for food under inclement weather conditions, we talk to them, feed them and try to help them find jobs as some of them are graduates and skilled workers, now being forced to live in the shadows since they are considered neither refugees nor economic migrants here in Thailand”, narrates Seng Du who could not hold back tears.

An Impossible Task

Getting refugees from Myanmar to settle legally in Thailand seems to be an impossible task as Thailand is not a party to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and has no specific domestic legal framework for protection of urban refugees and asylum-seekers.

As such, refugees and asylum-seekers may be treated as illegal aliens unless they have a valid visa issued pursuant to the Thai Immigration Act, or meet the requirements to get a “pink card” according to Rights Without Border, RBB, an NGO focused on keeping children safe in migration.

A pink card is an identity card initially issued to stateless people to restrict their movement within the Kingdom of Thailand prior to the Registration Act of 2008 which allows them to be issued to anybody that qualifies. Getting the pink card is a herculean task as an applicant needs a Thai ID number, passport, house registration, marriage certificate, registration fee and other documents which the Myanmar refugees do not have.

The border between Mae Sot, Thailand and Myanmar, some Burmese gather at the guarded barbed wire fenced bushes to sell alcohol and cigarettes to tourists on the Thai end of the border.
Photo: Omolara Omosanya
Any hope in sight?

Amidst escalating human rights violations, and civil war between it and various armed revolutionary groups, the military junta in Myanmar wants to hold elections in August this year, a seemingly impossible task considering the violence rocking the country.

International observers say Myanmar’s new Political Party Registration Law, which came into force in January 2023, makes it difficult for political parties to stand for election and oppose junta control as parties are now obliged to recruit 100,000 members within three months of registration — 100 times higher than the previous requirement, while those looking to run for election must also open offices in at least half of Myanmar’s 330 townships, contest at least half of all constituencies and prove they hold funds of 100 million kyat, equivalent to 47,000 USD.

The Myanmar refugees, including the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, AAPP, an NGO founded by Burmese former political prisoners living in exile want peace.

“The situation in Myanmar is no longer a domestic issue, it is a threat to the Asian region and to democratic societies all over the world”, they said.

Writing by Omolara Omosanya; Editing by Annabel Nwachukwu