Who is my Neighbour?

Today Cavelle Imagine Thailand Co-Founder), along with Melissa (intern) two of our Thai staff and a Canadian Embassy official travel to Mae Sot in Thailand. They will visit a refugee camp on Monday, and spend considerable time with individuals and agencies helping Burmese suffering under the militray government in Burma (also known as Myanmar). Burma is Thailand's neighbour, and the relative prosperity here makes it easy to forget about the atrocities happening next door. But unspeakable things do happen and deserve to be spoken. The consequence of the situtation in Burma means in Thailand close to 1 million Burmese live here legally and illegally trying to escape the hell of their home. Hundreds of thousands of these people live in refugee camps on Thailands borders. They have been there for over 20 years now with no hope of going home. Burma is not the only needy country in our broken world, but for us it is our neighbour and the situation there often weighs heavily on our heart. We have included and excerpt from a recent Op/ed piece in the Bangkok Post by Adolfo Perez Esquivel and Peter Gabrial to give you a little insight into what is happening today in Burma.

"Today, the world finds itself at odds with another brutal military junta in the Southeast Asian country of Burma, which continues to incarcerate Aung San Suu Kyi, the world's only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize recipient.

Suu Kyi's "crime" is being loved by the people of Burma. Her political party won 82 per cent of the seats in parliament in Burma's last democratic election, only to have the results annulled by the ruling military junta. She has remained locked up for 10 of the past 17 years. Many people of Burma fare much worse, suffering the most severe forms of torture.

The situation for ethnic minorities in the country is even worse. The military regime rules by brute force, oppressing and relocating hundreds of thousands of ethnic minorities who stand in opposition to its rule. Two thousand eight hundred villages have been burned down or otherwise destroyed in eastern Burma alone, some repeatedly, to force ethnic minorities to move to military-controlled areas. As a result, there are over one million Burmese refugees, and over half a million internally displaced people (IDPs). The situation for both groups is dire. For example, refugees like Naanh Hla (not her real name), a Shan woman, who was 16 years old and seven months pregnant when 10 Burmese soldiers kidnapped and killed her husband and gang-raped her to the point that she gave birth prematurely alone in the jungle, or Naw Paw Paw, who recounted to Burma Issues - a group working with the human-rights organisation WITNESS - how she lost four of her six children, two on the same day, over the course of many years fleeing through the jungle.

In the past four months, the worst attacks in a decade have displaced almost 20,000 people. Yet the junta continues to cut off international access to areas of ongoing conflict, which has precluded aid to IDPs, a violation of international humanitarian law. Even in Sudan, humanitarian agencies are permitted access; not so in eastern Burma.

If caught by the military, IDPs are often either killed on the spot or forced to become porters or labourers with little or no pay. Female porters are often systematically raped at night by officers and soldiers. Forced labourers are often required to build roads for the military, making it near impossible for them to grow their own crops.

The junta military also targets children. According to Human Rights Watch, there are up to 70,000 children conscripted into the army, more than any other country in the world. Some conscripted "soldiers" are as young as eleven." Please remember Cavelle and her team over the weekend, and please remember Burma.