Plight of Chin and Karen Refugees in Malaysia Stressed at London Ladies Conference
22 May 2010: Mrs. Kim Sherwood, wife of a Christian pastor in London, highlighted the continuing sufferings of Chin and Karen refugees stranded in Malaysia at London Ladies’ Conference last Saturday.
In her an-hour-long moving speech, Mrs. Sherwood highlighted the ‘unsecure and squalid’ conditions of refugees from Burma including children and women, and also presented video-clips showing the ‘shocking’ incidents in which refugees were rounded up in the chase during the night raids by Malaysian RELA Corps and Police.
“The Lord was very gracious as always helping us with our Ladies’ Conference last Saturday, 15 May 2010. Amazingly, the Lord carried me thoughout the Saturday – I have rarely experienced such a blessing from the Lord,” said Mrs. Kim Sherwood, urging the audience to continue praying for the refugees in Malaysia.
Mrs. Sherwood, who has made two trips to Malaysia last year visiting and seeking to help the Chin & Karen refugees practically and spiritually stressed that there have been many arrests in the last few months and many are living in fear of the Malaysian Police and RELA.
“Once in Malaysia, although safe from their own military, refugees are still in a precarious position. They are afforded no aid by the government and there is minimal aid by nongovernmental organisations/charities. There are no refugee camps and Chin and Karen refugees have to care for themselves by sharing run down flats, where it is not uncommon to find 40 people sharing one room, and makeshift huts in the jungle,” she addressed the conference.
“Those who work share what they earn to provide food for all, even though this may mean just one meal of plain rice or noodles with a little meat if they can find it per day. Many work illegally and hence are taken advantage of by employers who give them minimal wages or hire them in exchange for shabby accommodation.”
There is no governmental education for the estimated 400 Chin children. In April 2005, four student exiles set up the Chin Students’ Organisation (CSO) which has now 15 volunteer members dedicated to educating the Chin children in Malaysia. Classes are held at the Chin Refugee Centre with children often turning up 2 hours early due to the great desire to attend school and boredom by the lack of activity generated by needing to stay out of sight for much of the time.
Women are at risk of sexual assault due to their legal status; they would be unable to file a case without disclosing their immigration status. On top of all of this, there is the constant fear of being caught and arrested by the police. The police, who are fully aware of their immigration status, will often use this to their full advantage to obtain bribes.
Mrs. Sherwood, a mother of two, continued, “I was humbled to see many Dai people who were spiritually minded. I exhorted them that through their present trials and suffering they were being conformed to the image and likeness of our Lord. The people seemed very hungry for the Word of God. I found them to be very meek and humble.”
The Dai people, one of the Chin tribes from the south of Burma’s Chin State, also run a children school called Victoria Childcare Centre, with volunteer teachers under the leadership of Dai Community Malaysia formed in February 2008.
Among many other stories, Mrs. Sherwood spotlighted some incidents that made negative affects on refugees. Hamana was crippled because he started to run when chased by police and Rela in the night. He ran onto a railway track and was knocked down by a train. He was unconscious for a few days until providentially a preacher visited him in hospital.
“Another young man, Ceu Ceu became mentally ill due to fears when he was in Dai land and subsequently in Kuala Lumpur. We visited him when he was in the mental unit of a hospital. There are so many cases of mental illnesses and depression among the refugees. Ceu Ceu is till waiting for his UNHCR card so is still living in much fear and trepidation.”
According to a UN agency, there are approximately 75 000 refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia, 30,000 of whom are Chin. Another 60,000 Chin refugees are in India and approximately 1,000 in Thailand. There are around 4 000 Karens in Malaysia, the majority of whom are in the capital, Kuala Lumpur.
Many of the Chin and Karens flee to neighbouring countries such as Thailand and India to avoid the persecution, sexual violence, intimidation, forced labour, forced conversion to Buddhism and harassment by Burma’s ruling military junta. From there, many seek to obtain a way of getting to Malaysia to seek refuge.
The conference organised at New Life Bible Presbyterian Church by Pilgrim Tabernacle, an independent Reformed Evangelical Church, also had other key speakers, Mrs. Faith Cook on ‘Suffereng as a Christian’ and Mrs. Anne Winch on ‘Missionary Work in Turkey’ with about 60 people from more than 15 churches.
Van Biak Thang