In September last year, thousands of peaceful protesters took to the streets, demanding freedom and democracy in Burma. In response to the monk-led demonstration, known as Saffron Revolution, Burma’s brutal military regime cracked down on the peaceful protesters, opening fire, killing hundreds and arresting thousands. In the aftermath, more have been tracked and hunted down from house to house by SPDC’s non-uniformed soldiers who filmed and took photos of active and frontline protesters including monks, nuns and students during the nationwide protest.
A Chin university student, John C. Cung Nung, is one of many students who fled the country in fears of the military’s ruthless stalk. “The non-uniformed USDA or Suan-aa-shin operated hunting down those active participants from one block to another. This operation took place during the night because the SPDC did not want the people to see their brutal actions,” recalled John C. Cung Nung who managed to slip into Thailand with the help of agents after a series of hair-raising hiding at different locations in Burma.
During the mass demonstration on 27 September 2007, John was beaten severely and left bleeding on the streets by SPDC’s soldiers. “I was for a few seconds unconscious and couldn’t see properly. I pushed myself to stand up and run as fast as possible while the soldiers defended themselves from pieces of bricks and stones thrown at by the protestors. As I ran, I managed to help out an old man lying down and bleeding on the street who had just been severely beaten in the stampede by the soldiers, too,” said John who ran a private English Teaching class near Hledan Junction in Rangoon.
Prominent Chin political figures Pu Cin Sian Thang and Pu Thawng Khaw Thang were arrested at their homes in a night raid by the SPDC, John recalled.
Actively involved in the so-called Saffron Revolution since its start, John, a second-year student of Laws at Yangon University of Distance Education, was also the one who helped walk one of the oldest monks in the forefront along the streets. He believed that the Japanese photographer, sitting a few feet away from him, was shot intentionally to death. The ugly incident came after armed SPDC’s soldiers from seven trucks alighted around 1:30 pm in the afternoon and stood with guns pointing at us, John continued.
Despite his escape into Thailand, away from Burma’s military junta, John’s adventurous journey towards his dream of safety had not yet come to an end. A few days later, he found himself being crammed with other Burmese in a vehicle bound for Malaysia. It was arranged by the Thai-based agents who are engaged in smuggling refugees across the borders.
We were, John said, just like pigs jammed into a small truck and smuggled in a restricted area. After long hours on a hot, airtight, and wobbly journey, the vehicle finally came to a halt near the Thai-Malaysian border which is known as a free zone. We could hardly stand up and stretch our legs. We thought, John continued, we were free at that time but were literally passed on to the hands of other agents based in Malaysia.
Born and grown up in a small village near the Indian-Burma border, John C. Cung Nung, 25, finished in 2004 his Bachelor of Theology degree at a Rangon-based Bible College – the name of the college is not mentioned for security reasons. With a strong feeling of opposition, John roundly condemned the SPDC’s ‘corrupt and treacherous’ educational system as ‘cheat-ucation’.
With the help of his friends, he had managed to hide away for days from the night raid of the ‘non-uniformed’ SPDC’s men and to slip across the border into the neighbouring countries. Once again, he was helped out to get to Malaysia by his friends and family members who reportedly paid a big amount of money to the human-smuggling agents.
Life in Malaysia as an unrecognised refugee, John said, is nothing much better as I can be arrested and deported at any time by RELA or the Malaysian Police. One possible way out to getting himself off the Malaysian authorities is to approach UNHCR in Malaysia and to get registered as a refugee. Unfortunately, there are thousands of refugees from Burma waiting in line to be registered with UNHCR.
The fate of Chin refugees in Malaysia which number more than 30,000 is hard to predict and so is John’s. During his short stay in Thailand en route to Malaysia, John talked with some of an estimated 250 Burmese University students who fled Burma following the brutal crackdown of Saffron Revolution by the SPDC. It is estimated that there are about 25 Chin university students currently stranded in Malaysia.
“We are in the middle of nowhere in Malaysia. We can not go back or forward. We live a second-to-second life in fear of arrests and deportation by the Malaysia authorities. We don’t know what the future holds in store for us,” said an unrecognised refugee, John who left Burma as a sophomore following September Saffron Revolution last year.
Van Biak Thang
15 October, 2008