New Report Exposes Abuse of Burmese Refugees in Malaysia

Burmese refugees in Malaysia live in "severe and desperate poverty and deprivation" and face exploitation, abuse and other mistreatment, stated a new report by a Christian human rights group Monday.

The report by U.K.-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide documents the group's fact-finding mission to Malaysia and the Thailand-Burma border from Feb 4 to 17. CSW representatives heard first-hand testimonies of forced labor, rape, torture, land confiscation and religious persecution from Burmese refugees in Malaysia.

"This report documents yet more evidence of the crimes against humanity perpetrated by the military regime in Burma against its own people," CSW Advocacy Officer for South Asia Benedict Rogers said in a statement. "It also draws much-needed attention to the long-forgotten desperate plight of Burmese refugees who have fled to Malaysia in search of sanctuary and freedom, and have found yet more abuse, poverty and misery."

In addition to testimonies from refugees, CSW also interviewed civil society groups and Burmese Buddhist monks.

Tens of thousands of Burmese have fled their homeland to take refuge in refugee camps in neighboring Thailand and, to a lesser degree, in Malaysia.

The internationally infamous Burma junta is known to persecute ethnic minorities, wiping out entire villages. Armed military often attack villages of the Karen, Karenni, and Chin people – who are mostly Christians – and systematically rape the women.

The U.S. State Department has labeled Myanmar, the official name of Burma under the junta government, a "country of particular concern" – the worst religious freedom violation label.

"The situation in Burma remains deplorable. The regime has rejected calls from its own people and the international community to begin a genuine dialogue with the opposition and ethnic minority groups," said U.S. President George W. Bush, in a statement Monday.

"Severe human rights abuses by the Burmese Army, including burning down homes and killing civilians, continue in ethnic minority areas in eastern Burma," he acknowledged.

Bush announced that the Department of the Treasury has applied financial sanctions against several "regime [cronies]" and their financial network. Monday's actions add to the 33 individuals and 11 entities previously designated for sanction as well as U.S. visa restrictions on 898 Burmese officials and their family members.

"Concerted international pressure is needed to achieve a genuine transition to democracy in Burma," Bush urged. "We encourage Burma's neighbors and other stakeholders in Southeast Asia to impress upon the regime the need to release all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi; to end military offensives and human rights abuses against ethnic minorities; and to begin a genuine transition to democracy in response to the demonstrated aspirations of all the peoples of Burma."

Bush said the United States will continue to promote a "genuine democratic transition" as well as support the U.N. Security Council's efforts in Burma.

The CSW report, meanwhile, calls on the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to visit Burma "as a matter of urgency," and echoed the calls made by nine Nobel Peace Prize Recipients last week for a universal arms embargo on Burma.

Specifically addressing the situation in Malaysia, the human rights group called on the Malaysian Government to improve the situation for Burmese refugees within their borders by stopping authorities from detaining and deporting Burmese asylum-seekers and refugees, and disbanding RELA – the officially-sponsored vigilante force often used to raid refugees' camps, homes and workplaces.

It also urged the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to register all Burmese asylum-seekers in Malaysia, in order to provide better protection for them, and further called on more countries to offer opportunities for resettlement for Burmese refugees in Malaysia.

"The international community cannot continue to allow the terrible suffering of Burmese people to go on," Rogers said. "How many more cries for help do we need before the world unites in meaningful action to end the reign of terror in Burma?"

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