Friday, August 14, 2009

Ex-Burmese child soldier in final fight to avoid deportation

By Jason Warick, Saskatoon StarPhoenix

SASKATOON (Vancouver Sun)— A former child soldier now living in Saskatoon has one final hearing Friday morning before a federal court judge in his fight against deportation, say advocates.

If Nay Myo Hein is sent back as scheduled next week to Burma, a southeast Asian military dictatorship also known as Myanmar, his Saskatoon lawyer and others say that as a deserter, he'll be imprisoned or worse.

He would be the first known case of a Burmese refugee claimant deported from Canada, said Kevin McLeod of the group Canadian Friends of Burma.

"He's at risk of being imprisoned, tortured and killed," Saskatoon lawyer Chris Veeman said Thursday. Veeman was meeting with Hein, Hein's mother-in-law Zin Marlin and friend Khaing Kyaw to plan for the federal court Friday.

While pursuing these final attempts at a legal solution, Veeman, McLeod and many in Saskatoon's 1,000-strong Burmese community are also appealing to Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan to intervene and grant a stay on deportation. McLeod said his group contacted the minister's office Thursday but no response has been received yet. The minister's office could not be reached late Thursday afternoon.

Hein, who repairs car bumpers in Saskatoon and has been in a common-law relationship with a Burmese immigrant in the city for the past year, said he was kidnapped by military officials while waiting for a train on the outskirts of the capital of Rangoon.

During his "training," he was beaten and abused. "I'm against killing and wanted to get as far away as possible from them," he told officials at a Canadian hearing, where he represented himself.

He fled to the Burmese countryside and finished high school with the assistance of his aunt. He lived in constant fear of being recaptured. When a fellow deserter was arrested and sentenced to prison, he decided to flee.

Hein paid an "agent" to obtain travel documents and bribe airport officials. He flew to Columbia, but was not allowed to stay. He made his way into a shipping container, which stopped in New Orleans.

American officials would not let him get off the ship. It sailed to Cuba, but Hein feared the Cubans would send him back to Burma, so he stayed put. After more than a month on board, the ship docked in New Brunswick on New Year's Eve, 2007.

Hein fled to a relative's house in Moncton before filing for refugee status.

He came to Saskatoon shortly after to live with an uncle, got a job and met his now common-law wife, Haymar Zin.

"I like Saskatoon. It's okay," Hein said. "I am very afraid. I don't want to go back to Burma. It just depends on the judge and the government."

Hein's claim was rejected a the first stage because the judge didn't believe his story. Another official didn't believe he faced danger if returned, according to Hein's advocates.

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