Letter concerning Burmese ex-political prisoners

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10 February 2011

 

The Honourable Lawrence Cannon
Minister of Foreign Affairs
125 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0G2

 

Dear Minister,

I am writing to highlight the situation of Burmese ex-political prisoners in Thailand and to request your intervention to address their protection needs.

We strongly appreciate that Canada has already made significant contributions to protecting and resettling Burmese refugees in Thailand. While continuing these efforts, we hope your government will turn its attention to the group of Burmese ex-political prisoners, who unfortunately are falling between the gaps of existing protection measures.

These refugees have been in Mae Sot, Thailand, since 2007, having fled Burma due to their fear of persecution on the basis of their political opinion. Most are 88 generation activists or monks associated with the Saffron Revolution.  Unlike most of the Burmese refugees in Thailand, they are not persecuted for their ethnicity, but because of their non-violent political activities in support of democratic rights. All have been imprisoned in Burma for their political opinions and many suffered torture.  We understand that there may be approximately 120 people in this group.

Despite their well-founded fear of persecution, these refugees have been unable to  access avenues for protection in Thailand, as a result of Thai government policies. They live in constant fear of deportation and suffer from the psychological after-effects of torture and extended imprisonment in harsh conditions.

Access to the UNHCR is also difficult for these refugees.  They have been advised by the UNHCR to go to refugee camps and wait.  However, their situation is precarious in refugee camps dominated by a specific ethnic group, and recently some have become victims of harassment, intimidation and even violence at the hands of the Karen camp leadership because of their ethnicity. The UNHCR has not been able to offer them an alternative because of its own tenuous position in Thailand.

We would like to request that the Canadian government pursue diplomatic initiatives to help these ex-political prisoners.  In particular, we ask you to draw the attention of UNHCR and other governments to their situation, to press the Thai government not to deport them, to provide funding for a safe house, and to encourage the Thai government to permit the resettlement of those who wish to seek a durable solution in a third country.

We look forward to your response.

Your sincerely,

 

Wanda Yamamoto
President

 


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