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Domestic Refugees in Burma


by Corey

Myanmar is a complicated place.  Signs of international migration are a thing of the past as the military regime has overrun the countryside, imposing an iron fist within the country’s borders.  Of course there are bootleg DVDs galore and knock off brand names around every corner, but most other commercial migration seems rather limited.  Pepsi has made a recent entry into the market, but only after years of sitting on the fence in commercial exile.  The most evident signs of migration within Myanmar are of a domestic nature, particularly the issue of displaced people.  Refugee-like communities are popping up all along the Burmese countryside as the military does what it wants whenever it wants and allocates land without any compensation.


The most newsworthy and applicable example of late, deals with the building of a dam in the northern part region of the country.  The building of this dam will create a flood plain that will consume thousands of Burmese villages and homes.  Without providing any sort of compensation, the families occupying this land will be forcibly moved at gunpoint to make way for demolition and construction crews, many of which are military controlled slave-like laborers of neighboring communities.  The volunteers involved with “An Interview With A Burmese Exile” drew comparisons to the American ‘Trail of Tears’ as this form of forced migration will surely redefine the lives of many Burmese people.  Maura Stephens outlines the account of a Burmese activist in her article “The Heart of Burma”, citing military brutality against students and democracy advocacy groups.  The article notes the importance of UN involvement in such an international issue, and lobbies for the Western World to take an active role in Burma. The dominance and control of the military regime alongside the human rights abuses occurring even today have forced the common people to migrate to new areas of the country, and the regime’s rigid policy has limited the amount of international migration that is permitted to occur.

The fact that my Western American eyes did not witness any of this mistreatment first hand is a testament to the power of the regime.  The ability to guise the political state and overall treatment of the citizens is a key concern for such advocacy groups as that involved in the interview.  Perhaps my initial impression of smiling faces and Buddhist monuments is the same image the UN associates with Burma when it pushes the human rights allegations to the back of the international agenda.  Burma barely allows legitimate foreign investment as knock offs dominate the market.  In a country that is so controlled, it is a wonder that Semester at Sea was able to set 600 students loose in its cities.

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