Burmese Christian IDPs Risk Imprisonment and Sex Trafficking to Find Work in China

ICC NOTE: Ethnic Kachin Christians have faced persecution and hardship for decades. The military has targeted various Christian villages and have committed unspeakable acts against men, women, and children throughout the years. Kachin rebels have fought nearly the same amount of time for autonomy from the central government as it was intended prior to the overthrow of the democratic government in the 1940s. As a result of the conflict, thousands of Kachin are IDPs placed in various camps with little hope of returning home while the fighting continues. In order to survive, many illegally enter China to find both work and freedom, risking arrest and imprisonment as illegals. For those who are not arrested, work is scarce and women and children face illegal trafficking both in slave labor and in the sex trade. Pray for the Kachin Christians and for the thousands of other IDPs living in Burma. 

6/14/2016 Myanmar (Myanmar Times) – Je Yang, one of the biggest camps in Laiza, with 8780 IDPs, can provide residents with rice, oil and beans. But one-third found jobs just over the Chinese border after camp authorities stopped paying the monthly K7000 supplement.

“Both men and women work illegally on the other side of the border, across the creek, because it’s not easy to get a passport. They can earn good money, but sometimes the Chinese authorities arrest them,” said camp leader Naw Sai.

Men arrested in China for illegal immigration can be sent to prison. But women face the risk of being illegally trafficked. Tempted by the prospect of freedom from hunger and insecurity, many young women see entry into China as the way to a better life. But they are deceived.

Hka Tawng, head of the local women’s affairs committee, said, “Recently one young woman came back to the camp. She had been sold for marriage to a Chinese man for 25,000 yuan [K23 million, or US$19,000] when she was 14 years old. After suffering daily beatings from her husband and family members, she returned to the camp with her young son. But she was then forced for lack of money to return to China to work.”

The camp’s women’s protection group has arranged sewing training programs for young women to earn income within the country. But camp leaders say more such situations are likely to arise if rations are cut.

People who have been living in IDP camps face several difficulties – lack of food, shelter, health and education – for many years. Their prospects are bleak, and no date can be set for their return home. But they are aware that the way back to their villages can only come through the establishment of genuine peace between the government and the KIA.

Kachin State is rich in natural resources such as gold, jade and other precious stones, as well as significant teakwood forests. The state was among the most fertile regions of the country before it turned into a battleground – particularly since a 17-year ceasefire established in 1994 broke down in June 2011.

Formal peace talks between the government and the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), for which the KIA serves as the military arm, resumed in November 2011 in Ruili, China. Negotiations have been ongoing ever since, but the KIO declined to sign last October’s “nationwide” ceasefire agreement.

The conflict has been perpetuated by the lack of trust on both sides. The fighting taking place today is the result of many years of failed political negotiations.

“Going home is impossible without genuine peace. The lives of thousands of people are getting worse as both sides put their own interests first, not caring what is best for the people,” said U Zaw Gum, leader of the Bung Long camp in Namkham township, Shan State.

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