The Burmese Chin refugees
Every day, the Burmese Chin and Karen people fear being exposed. Thousands are forced to be illegal immigrants in neighboring Malaysia, Thailand and India.
They are vulnerable.
The Burmese Chin and Karen are vulnerable to sexual assault, employment abuse and denial of essential needs. Because of their illegal status, they are not protected and cannot report abuses without exposing themselves and risking arrest.
Political, ethnic and religious tensions have caused thousands of Chin and Karen people to flee to neighboring countries for protection.
According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, the following are all reasons for the Chin and Karen people to flee:
1. Discrimination against Christianity (mostly for Chin people)
2. Forced conversion to Buddhism (mostly for Chin people)
3. Harassment from soldiers extorting food and money from villagers
4. Punishment for actual or assumed support for the Chin National Front or Chin National Army
5. Consequences for support for the National League of Democracy
6. Intimidation and forced labor for the military service
7. Sexual violence by Burmese soldiers
Chin Culture Facts and life in U.S.
There are 1.5 million Chin people in the world, but only 600,000 of those still live in the Chin State (Christian Solidarity Worldwide). There are more than 30 distinct ethnic groups with 20 to 25 mutually unintelligible languages.
The Chin culture is very agrarian. Every household has a vegetable garden, and most Chin people work in the agricultural sector. Their households are very conservative and traditional with men as the head and sons are the sole heirs to property.
Missionaries arrived in the Chin state in 1899 converting the Burmese to Christianity. Now, 90% of Chins are Christian.
In 2012, more than 415,000 refugees were resettled from Burma, thousands of these were Chin. When they arrive to the U.S., they have little or no education from the rural areas and/or refugee camps.
The Chin view eye contact as a challenge and cross their arms in front of their bodies to show respect, not hostility.
Karen Culture Facts and life in U.S.
Although the Karen people were the first to convert to Christianity, 70% are still Buddhist or Buddhist-Animist and 20-30% are Christian.
There are no first or last names in Karen society, only names, and nicknames.
The Karen people often say “no” instead of “yes” in order to show modesty and politeness, but it makes it hard to assess their needs.
Just as with the Chin people, the Karen people do not make direct eye contact. They are quick learners and hard workers, but after living on refugee camps, they need to be taught to use modern appliances.