FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Katherine Chamberlain, 202-293-6200 x202; Katherine@spitfirestrategies.com
Call for U.S. to Address Burmese Refugee Crisis through Smart Sanctions and Increased Aid
Strong action on Burma declared critical to stability in Southeast Asia
Washington, DC – Refugees International called on the Bush Administration to stem the regional impact of the ongoing conflict inside Burma by working with other governments to impose and enforce targeted sanctions on Burmese leadership, and increasing humanitarian aid inside the country. Specific recommendations for immediate action by the U.S. Government, UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and others were issued today following Refugees International’s recent mission to the region. The mission traveled to Bangkok and refugee camps in Tham Hin and Mae Sot from October 29 to November 6, 2007 to identify ways to ease the Burmese refugee crisis in Thailand.
“The Burmese government continues to exploit its people through forced labor, excessive taxation, physical and sexual abuse, and restrictions on political and economic freedom,” said Dawn Calabia, Senior Advisor of Refugees International who led the mission. “Thailand and the entire region are straining to handle the Burmese exodus. Without international pressure to encourage national reconciliation and resumption of the rule of law in Burma, increased refugee and migrant worker flows will threaten the region’s already strained economic and social infrastructure.”
The current crisis has forced some three million Burmese to flee to neighboring countries. To increase pressure on Burmese officials, Refugees International is calling on the U.S. Government, members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members and other donor governments to ban the import of all Burmese gem stones; bar additional international financing and insurance of new major construction projects in Burma; freeze the bank accounts of senior members of the Burmese military regime, and deny them and their families travel visas. Congressional bills to enact similar measures have been proposed by Senator McCain, Senator Biden, Representative Lantos and Representative Ros-Lehtinen, but none have yet been enacted.
“By imposing sanctions such as banning the import of all gem stones or freezing the bank accounts of senior Burmese officials, we are addressing the problem directly and loudly,” said Eileen Shields-West, Vice Chair of Refugees International and former TV journalist. “By joining together to impose these sanctions, the Burmese regime will know that the international community is serious about ending the oppression and exploitation in Burma and stabilizing the region.”
During the mission, Refugees International Board members assessed how the long-standing repression inside Burma is impacting the stability of neighboring countries. Board members interviewed monks and democracy activists who recently organized anti-government demonstrations.
“This was pivotal in my understanding of the current situation inside Burma and Thailand and how regional governments, the U.S. and other members of the UN Security Council should better respond to these developments,” said Eileen Shields-West.
In addition to imposing sanctions, Refugees International is urging the U.S. to increase assistance inside Burma immediately. 500,000 people have been internally displaced in eastern Burma alone due to the government’s policies of forced relocation, destruction of villages and agriculture, use of land mines, and military campaigns that target civilians. The Thai-Burma Border Consortium also announced that an additional 27,000 Burmese were displaced this year and are dependent on cross-border assistance for their survival, particularly for medical care in areas with high incidence of malaria and tuberculosis.
“Limiting assistance only punishes the vulnerable people of Burma, while showing no signs of moving the regime,” said Joel Charny, Vice President for Policy of Refugees International. “Refugees International is committed to recommending the best solutions to help resolve this conflict by responding to refugees’ needs. We firmly believe that imposing targeted sanctions against Burma officials and increasing aid inside the region are critical steps in the right direction.”
Refugees International is a Washington, DC-based organization that advocates to end refugee crises. For more information on Refugees International’s Board Mission to the region, please visit http://www.refugeesinternational.org