(Part of The Darkness Visible series)
“The population is decreasing year over year. We are losing our entire young generation. Eventually, we will lose our identity."
Not far from the Arakan region of Myanmar lays the homeland of the Chin people. It is so tied to the Chin people themselves that it has long bore their name as part of Myanmar's history. Unlike the Rohingya, Myanmar cannot claim that the Chin don't exist. Their blood is in the mountains of their homeland. Their sweat is in the fields of their farms perched on hillsides and in dry valleys. Their youth however is being lost from that sacred soil. For unlike with the Rohingya, Myanmar appears to have employed the method of a slow bleed to ethnic cleanse the Chin homeland.
While brutality is still common when the Burmese army ventures into the Chin villages, the method for clearing out the village has been economical in nature. Through deprivation and isolation, Myanmar has kept the Chin locked outside the economy that has slowly begun to gain traction. Like with the Kachin, Myanmar only allows economic investment in the Chin state where and when the Chin people have lost ground to the centralized government. Thus the Chin themselves do not profit from the investment but rather suffer in the shadows of it.
Chin families are quickly coming to the realization that money isn't coming to the Chin state. Or at the very least, if and when it does come, it isn't coming for them. This has left the Chin with one option and one option alone. Seek a better life elsewhere... become a refugee.
This slow bleed of the Chin population in their homeland has left the fragile peace agreement the Chin National Front made with Myanmar even shakier than before. Nobody is eager to return to the days of state sponsored oppression and brutal combat. Yet the Chin families are left with little options as they watch their children fleeing the country for yet another reason caused by the central government.
“We must change the system in Myanmar."
How it was before...
Prior to the peace agreement the Chin people were openly subjected to military campaigns that were intended to drive ethnic Chin up into the mountains. Burmese military forces frequently entered the region in attempts to route the Chin National Front and other ethnic militias. Civilians, as always, paid the price of ethnic war as they were often forced into slavery to the Burmese military forces. Farmers were targeted for forced labor in the vital months of planting and harvesting so as to decrease the food supply of the Chin people all together. Women were rounded up and used as sex slaves to keep Burmese soldiers on the battle field longer. Prior to the peace agreement the genocide being conducted against the Chin people was blatant.
Even in times of relative peace prior to this brutal peace today, Chin people were used as slaves to build roads upon which the military could bring in larger equipment. Chin women and men were made to work till they died or the government's project was complete. It simply came down to which one would happen first.
Food and supplies to keep the military in the field was taken directly from Chin farmers. Families gardens were the supermarket for the Burmese military. This made forced famines a reality for Chin civilians caught between the Chin militias and the national army. Those who tried to flee starvation were subjected to torture and execution.
Then came the use of landmines. Just as with the Kachin and Karen people, the Chin learned not to return to villages that had been razed by the Burmese military. Those who attempted to return were greeted with landmines and vulnerable to abductions by patrolling Burmese soldiers. This was the breadth of Myanmar's genocidal ambitions in the Chin state.
“There are no jobs here."
A Peace Worse Than War...
Hunger is a wretched thing. It can separate us from things and places that prior to it we may have never abandoned. It is a force that drives us to expand from what we know and seek out options that are foreign at best. Hunger is a form of torture in and of itself. It cannot be escaped from no matter how far we run. It is a parasite that saps us of our motivation while stripping us of our inhibitions.
For the Chin people in Burma it is a constant threat as the Burmese continue to alienate the Chin in their own homeland. Denying access by refusing to build roads and power-lines to the Chin, Myanmar maintains it's campaign of genocide in the Chin state. Where there have been options to make the remote region of Burma more accessible, Myanmar has refused to put forth effort. And what little roads are being built are being built by Chin workers who are paid considerably less than their Buddhists neighbors.
Thein Sein's government has reduced the outright repression of the Chin people yet has not done anything to combat the discrimination against them on a state level. By allowing the government the option to neglect the Chin people, Thein Sein's regime has prolonged the genocide against the Chin. With the intent to drive out the Chin through economic pressure the government picks up where the outright killing of Chin civilians left off. What the bullet could not achieve the dollar threatens to complete.
“We need people who are part of the ‘brain drain’ to come home and help us."
This method of genocide was has been utilized time and time again. In Armenia the Turks targeted educated members of the Armenian community first. Those who were fit to lead the Armenian society and expand upon the Armenian culture were rounded up and sent to prison to be executed while others were put up on gallows for the world to see. This was meant to decapitate the culture and destroy the leadership of the targeted community.
In Myanmar the move to slowly bleed the Chin community dry shows more directly in it's willingness to allow Chin children to leave Burma. Unlike the families that they leave behind, the Chin children receive far less scrutiny when fleeing to Malaysia and the West (especially the United States). This process of allowing children to readily leave their families behind gives Myanmar's regime the ability to leave the Chin community without "the next generation".
Today there are more than 50,000 estimated Chin seeking refugee status in Malaysia. Of these many are seeking immigration or refugee status in the United States. This would add to the 30,000 plus Chin refugees currently living in places like Idaho, Indiana, New York, and Colorado. It is important to note that these 80,000 are a sizable portion of the Chin worldwide. Unlike ethnic or refugees of given nationalities from elsewhere, this 80,000 number can be contrasted to the 500,000 Chin living in their homeland in Myanmar.
These numbers will only continue to change as President Thein Sein utilizes military dominated branches of "civilian" government to openly discriminate against Christian (Chin) and Muslim minorities along the border with India and Bangladesh. There can be no expected change in the pattern as long as Myanmar's government is permitted to continue violating the basic human rights of ethnic minorities within Burma.
So for now the question remains; is Burma creating refugees of the Chin people intentionally? And if so, will the world admit that you can perpetrate genocide without bullets, gas, or machetes? When will we admit that economics, hunger, and isolation are just as affective tools of genocidal regimes as are bullets and chemicals?
The Chin people deserve the right to remain in their homeland. They deserve the right to share in the economy their blood, sweat, and tears helped build. They deserve to raise their children on the same land upon which they were raised and their ancestors were raised. These are basic desires of all ethnic groups. These are the dreams that all peoples across the planet hold for the society in which they are born.
The Chin deserve to preserve their identity and way of life. They deserve the opportunity to propagate their culture and preserve it for the next generation. They deserve the right to return home as they wish and to a land that resembles the one from which they were forced to flee. But none of this can be achieved as long as Burma continues to violate the basic human rights of the Chin people.
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(note: not all sources are listed)
Radio Free Asia
Asia Times Online
Nuvo (Indy's Alternative News)