Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Burma Soldier's siblings living in limbo

By Ellie Bogue of The News-Sentinel
Tuesday, April 15, 2014 - 6:51 am

Myo Myint, known for his story in "Burma Soldier," is looking for a little help.

After the documentary, about his life as a soldier who was imprisoned for fifteen years after supporting the democratic movement in Burma, was released in 2011, three of his siblings who still lived in Burma were forced to flee the country as the government began to harass them for their brother's pro democratic stance.

Win Myint, Swe Zin Aye and Me Me Aye are currently living in the Umpiem Mai refugee camp. They are out of Myanmar, but they are caught in limbo as the the US Department of State's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration has ended its refugee relocation program from those areas and the Thai government has stopped the registration process for refugees.

Nic Dunlop co-directed the HBO Emmy-nominated film "Burma Soldier," the story of Myo Myint and his life as a Burmese soldier turned activist/political prisoner. In a recent email interview with Dunlop, who lives on the Thai border, he said the three had hoped they would be resettled with the rest of the family in the US.

“Despite the fact that they clearly meet the definition of political refugees, they seem to fall beneath the cracks here in Thailand and remain vulnerable and the situation has stagnated. Thailand has never ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and so does not recognize any of the people in these camps as refugees (there about 140,000 of them in camps here). The fate of these people, I'm told, resides with the Thai government,” Dunlop said.

The Thai government said Myo Mint has stopped the registration process for refugees, and the U.S. State Department has told him there is nothing it can do without this.

“When I was in the refugees camp, the UN, the U.S. and other human rights organizations helped us. I hope now they can help them too,” Myo Mint said.

Myo Myint said his three siblings fled the country so quickly that they took no passports or documentation with them. If they try to reenter Myanmar now, they would face a minimum three-year prison term for crossing the border without documentation.

Myo Myint, who became a U.S. citizen last fall and lives on the edge of Fort Wayne's far south side, said he cannot sleep nights thinking about his family who were forced to flee the country because of his role in the documentary.

A few years ago their was talk of disbanding the Thai border refugee camps and sending the remaining refugees back to Myanmar, but Myo Myint said there is nothing for them to return to. Many have lived in the camps for three decades. The areas where they once lived in villages has been heavily land-mined.

Myo Myint said although the current government leaders say they are moving towards a democratic government, they are simply the old regime, no longer dressed in their military uniforms. There is still heavy fighting going on in ethnic areas of Myanmar

“It is just window dressing. There are still political prisoners in the prisons,” Myo Myint said.

Last year when he was in Washington attending a conference, he visited U.S. Sens. Dan Coats and Joe Donnelly and U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman to plead his case. He hoped they could get in touch with the State Department to ask for help. A couple of weeks ago he and 20 some of his acquaintances sat down and wrote letters to the three hoping the more people who contacted them, the more they would try.

Now Myo Myint is reaching out to people in Fort Wayne who would be willing to send letters of support as well. Anyone interested in writing letters can get in touch with him at myomyint63@gmail.com.