Saturday, January 3, 2009

Home at last, far from big cities and refugee camps

By Pia Akerman
The Australian

LIFE in a refugee camp on the Thai-Burmese border was all that Hsar Muhtaw's four young children had ever known.

They were born in its squalid confines and their father had spent 17 years living there, often hungry, always in overcrowded conditions.

Now the family -- who fled persecution in military-ruled Burma -- is helping to set the standards on how refugees should be resettled in regional Australia. Their experience in the South Australian town of Mount Gambier is being used by Immigration officials and support groups as a template for introducing refugee families to their new life.

"Because we were scared of the Burmese army, we ran away to the camp," said Mr Muhtaw, a 38-year-old Karenni man, one of tens of thousands persecuted by the military junta as an ethnic minority.

Mr Muhtaw's wife, Baby Po, is expecting their fifth child, who will be born in the leafy town of Mount Gambier, midway between Adelaide and Melbourne. The family is one of 10 brought from refugee camps to be settled in Mount Gambier in a project tipped to become a benchmark for refugee settlement.

The Immigration Department has labelled the migrants' entry into Australian society a "great success", and is carefully studying recommendations on how other towns seeking to revive their population can best integrate similar arrivals.

A report, obtained by The Weekend Australian under Freedom of Information, sets out the dosanddon'ts of successfully integrating refugee groups into regional Australia.

For the Burmese in Mount Gambier -- a city of 30,000 people -- the dedication of their case worker, Heather Muirhead, has made all the difference. She has been with them since the first families arrived 18 months ago.

"Obviously it was big culture shock for them, but they coped reasonably well with it," Ms Muirhead said.

"They had to be shown everything -- kettles, toasters, how to use a fridge, how to use a bed."

Margaret Piper, a refugee expert and author of a report on the Mount Gambier case, said careful planning and a low-key arrival had been key for the Burmese migrants.

"Other groups of refugees come in and want everything yesterday," she said.

"They have spent a long time with their lives on hold and they want a job, they want a house, they want this and that. The Burmese are not as frustrated because they know things will take time."

Ms Piper has recommended that more refugees be identified to go to Mount Gambier, and that the surrounding towns of Naracoorte and Bordertown also be investigated for possible humanitarian settlement -- something that Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs and Settlement Services Laurie Ferguson said was being considered.

"We have so many rural and regional areas that need population to keep schools going, to keep employers sure of workers," Mr Ferguson said. "At the same time ... we have the challenge of parts of western Sydney where refugee humanitarian settlement should be diversified -- it's just too pronounced."

Thoo Lay Paw, 36, was the first of the Mount Gambier arrivals to give birth in Australia.

She has high hopes for her new daughter, Hannah, who may never see the camp where her mother spent 21 years.

"I'm not worried for her because everything is good," Ms Lay Paw said. "I don't know what her ambitions will be, but she will decide that for herself. She will find her way one day."

Still mastering English, the men of the families are spending one day a week working for the local council, tending to the city's parks and playgrounds.

Mr Muhtaw would like to find work on a farm, but he knows things will be different from working the buffalo on his rice plantation.

The women hope to work in childcare, or perhaps in a local bakery. All say they are happy in Mount Gambier, and do not wish to move to a bigger city.

"Some have been to Melbourne, some have been to Sydney to have a look, they've then come back here," Ms Muirhead said. "The city overwhelms them."

The Burmese migrants have also applied for relatives to join them in Mount Gambier, with two more families expected to arrive later this month.

READ MORE---> Home at last, far from big cities and refugee camps...

US notes Myanmar independence anniversary

January 2, 2009

WASHINGTON: The U.S. State Department is congratulating Myanmar's people ahead of Sunday's 61st anniversary of the country's independence from British rule.

But the statement Friday takes a swipe at the country's military junta.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States wants "to express our warmest wishes to the people of Burma on this occasion."

But he added that the United States looks "forward to the day when Burma's citizens will be able to enjoy the fruits of freedom and democracy."

The Associated Press

READ MORE---> US notes Myanmar independence anniversary...

CRPP backs NLD’s call for national reconciliation

Jan 2, 2009 (DVB)–The National League for Democracy has called for national reconciliation and the immediate release of all political prisoners in a New Year statement backed by MPs-elect and ethnic parties.

The NLD released the statement yesterday with the support of members of the Committee Representing the People’s Parliament and seven election-winning parties.

The other parties were the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy led by Hkun Htun Oo, the Arakan League for Democracy led by Aye Thar Aung, the Mon National League for Democracy led by Nai Tun Thein, Kyaw Min’s National Democratic Party for Human Rights, the National Democracy Party led by MP-elect Soe Win, the Zomi National Congress led by Cin Sian Thang and Htaung Ko Thang’s United Nationalities League for Democracy.

The statement was signed by all the party leaders apart from Hkun Htun Oo and Kyaw Min who are currently in prison.

NLD spokesperson Nyan Win said the party had decided to release the statement under the NLD banner, but highlighted the significance of the support of other groups.

"NLD central executive committee member decided in a meeting to [release it as an NLD statement] but all CRPP members except two absentees signed,” he said.

“We believe that we cannot rebuild Burma without the participation of ethnic nationalities."

Aye Thar Aung of the ALD, who is also secretary of the CRPP, said the groups had met to discuss the content of the statement.

"It is an effort to persuade the SPDC to start the national reconciliation process with the release of political prisoners,” he explained.

“One of our plans for 2009 is to persuade the SPDC to release political prisoners and change the constitution before the planned 2010 election."

Aye Thar Aung said that the CRPP also wanted to expand to include other political parties and to rally non-political groups to join calls for the release of political prisoners.

Reporting by Htet Aung Kyaw

READ MORE---> CRPP backs NLD’s call for national reconciliation...

NCUB to form new government in exile

Jan 2, 2009 (DVB)–The National Council of the Union of Burma has announced its plans to establish a new government in exile in advance of the Burmese military regime’s planned 2010 election.

The NCUB, an umbrella organisation of exiled opposition groups based on the Thai-Burma border, plans to form a united parliament comprising elected members of parliament and ethnic nationalities.

NCUB spokesperson Myint Thein said the move was a rejection of the 2008 constitution and the planned 2010 elections, which he said would validate long-term military rule.

“We will form a united parliament and from there, we will form a rival national unity government to respond to the current situation,” Myint Thein said.

“[As well as reaffirming the 1990 election results,] we will also be fighting against military rule by uniting legal and armed ethnic groups, pro-democracy groups and other organisations to form a legal de facto parliament,” he said.

“From there we will form a rival national unity government that practices good governance in order to carry out our intentions.”

Myint Thein said the new government would campaign for a federal system of government in Burma.

“We oppose the 2010 election. We also oppose the 2008 constitution. We support the results of the 1990 election,” Myint Thein said.

“The main aim of the NCUB government is to build a federal system that specifically guarantees equality and the right to self-legislation for ethnic nationalities.”

The new government could present a challenge to the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, the US-based government in exile led by prime minister Dr Sein Win.

There have been persistent rumours of tensions between NCUB and NCGUB in the past, but representatives of both organisations have insisted that they are united in their aims.

When asked where the NCGUB fitted in with the new plans, Myint Thein said the new government would work with the NCGUB.

“We are in a position to deal with problems step by step,” Myint Thein said.

“We are aiming to form a rival government that can achieve national unity and oppose military rule in practice,” he continued.

“In order for that to happen, as we will be formed on the basis of the 1990 election, we will systematically negotiate and work with the NCGUB and any other organisation.”

Sein Win, prime minister of the NCGUB, said he did not yet know the details of the NCUB statement.

“We don't know how they are going to move forward with their activities,” he said.

“[The NCGUB] was formed on the basis of the results of the 1990 election and we will continue with the policies of the NLD, the CRPP and so on in the future,” he went on.

“There will be a meeting of MPs and a prime ministerial election in Ireland in mid-January.”

Reporting by Htet Aung Kyaw

READ MORE---> NCUB to form new government in exile...

Mohyin residents forced into construction work

Jan 2, 2009 (DVB)–Local people from Mohyin township in northern Burma’s Kachin State have been forced to take part in the construction of an artillery base and radar station.

The base is being built six miles away from Bilu, a local resident said.

"From Bilu, you have to cross paddy fields and climb the mountains,” he said.

“Roads are being built and members of the GE corps can be seen by the roadsides."

It is not known which artillery battalion is leading the construction of the base.

Local residents from Bilu and the surrounding villages have been forced to contribute one person from each household to work on the project, the resident said.

"When we told them we could not come they told us to give money, so I had to pay, several times,” he said.

“The amount of money I had to pay was not the same each time. I have had paid more than 8000 kyat so far."

Another local resident told DVB that farmlands had also been confiscated for the project.

Military analyst Htay Aung of the Thailand-based Network for Democracy and Development confirmed that the Burmese army has been expanding its air defence system throughout the country.

"Radar stations built during the Burma Socialist Programme Party era are outdated as they cannot detect incoming airplanes from a distance,” he said.

“The new ones are more advanced and have a longer range."

Equipment and technology needed for the radar stations have been bought from Russia and the stations have been built under the close instruction of Russian experts.

Reporting by Arnt Phone Myat

READ MORE---> Mohyin residents forced into construction work...

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