02/07/2024 Southeast Asia (International Christian Concern) – Did you know the word refugee has its roots in religious persecution? Refugee is derived from the French word réfugié which described the time more than 400,000 French Protestants fled France after 1685 to escape persecution from French Catholics. Central to the concept of a refugee is someone who must leave their home because of the persecution they endure from another dominant group, religion, or government. Christian refugees are growing quickly in Southeast Asia.
More than 300 years after the Protestant Huguenots fled France, hundreds of thousands of réfugié today continue to flee their homelands across Southeast Asia because of persecution for their Christian faith. The basic drivers of Christian persecution in Southeast Asia are oppressive governments driven by Communism and Marxist ideologies, radical Islam, military dictatorships, and other socio-political pressures. Through restrictive laws and policies, or through savage war, or through blunt and violent force, Christians refugees voluntarily or are forced to leave their homes to seek refuge and safety somewhere else. Consequently, Christian refugees become categorized as internally displaced persons (IDPs) who are often boxed into IDP or refugee camps in their home country or abroad. Christian refugees are sometimes classed as political prisoners, activists, dissidents, or numerous other names. But if you dig deeper, their refugee status or story is ultimately because they are followers of Jesus Christ. This is usually ignored or missed by media agencies and political bodies involved in refugee work.
RUNNING FOR SAFETY BUT PERSECUTION FOLLOWS THEM
In Vietnam, thousands of Christians are escaping their homes and traveling to Thailand because of regular persecution and oppression from the Communist government. The UNHCR (UN’s refugee agency) has an office in Thailand, so refugees flood the country seeking refugee status. But this creates more pressure on Thai society, services, and infrastructure. In late 2023, ICC highlighted increased harassment and persecution of Vietnamese Hmong and Montagnard Christians from Thai government officials. For example, Hmong preacher and missionary Lu A Da fled to Thailand to seek official refugee status. He was arrested in Bangkok in early December 2023 and faces extradition back to Vietnam where he faces up to 20 years imprisonment for breaking the Vietnamese Penal Code by fleeing the country or remaining abroad to oppose the people’s government.” ICC is currently working with other agencies and ministries to support Vietnamese Christian refugees like Lu A Da, providing basic necessities like food, money for rental accommodation in Thailand, and advocacy support. One current project involves a Vietnamese mother who became a Christian and immediately faced beatings from her husband and local police. This mother and her baby fled to Thailand where we helped through local ministry partners to support them with food and money for a phone and rent. However, these ministry partners have informed us that Vietnamese government agents are actively working in Thailand harassing Christian refugees and seeking to inflict harm or extradition back to Vietnam. Local ministry partners are extremely worried about this recent development. Praise God for generous ICC supporters who partner with us to support the tragic yet resilient stories of Vietnamese Christian refugees in Thailand.
FIERCE CIVIL WAR DISPLACING HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE
About 2,000 kilometers to the east of Vietnam, Myanmar is experiencing a savage and brutal war. After two years of tyrannical control from the Tatmadaw, who forcefully took control of the country in 2021, ethnic and pro-democracy forces have joined together and are inflicting huge losses on the military dictatorship. Fighting is fierce, particularly as soldiers from predominantly Christian regions like Chin State, Kayah State, and Kachin State advance throughout the country, combining with other militias against Tatmadaw. But, as with every war, there are huge impacts for civilians. The UN reported in late December that more than 6 million Burmese children were facing severe food shortages, and one-third of the country’s population were facing immediate humanitarian crises. As of Christmas 2023, nearly 700,000 Burmese are deemed IDPs. Huge numbers of these are Christian refugees who have fled their homes. Additionally, IDPs or refugees have also fled to Manipur State in India because of the fighting. This has created new problems with reports emerging of growing tensions in Manipur between Hindu nationalists and pro-democracy fighters from Myanmar who have crossed the border amid all the fighting. The predominantly Christian Chin and Meitei forces from Myanmar are closely and ethnically related to the mostly Christian Kuki people in Manipur. Consequently, the war in Myanmar is leading to other religious challenges and confrontations in neighboring India. These Christian refugees are literally living between the proverbial rock and hard place! Again, ICC is trying to work with local partners to help in some way to support suffering and displaced Christians in this ongoing civil war.
ISIS DISPLACING THOUSANDS AND TARGETING CHRISTIANS IN SOUTHERN PHILIPPINES
Finally, 2,000 kms southwest from Myanmar is Mindanao, the southernmost island group of the Philippines. We have previously highlighted Mindanao and the rise of radical and violent Islam, with ISIS-affiliated terror groups like Abu Sayyaf and Dawlah Islamiya-Maute fighting to establish the island region as a ‘wilayat,’ functioning under Sharia law and ISIS control. Over the last six years, more than 400,000 people have been displaced in Mindanao alone because of the ongoing battles between these terror groups and Filipino military and police. In early December 2023, ISIS bombed a Catholic mass in Marawi, Mindanao, killing more than 50 church goers and leading to more displacement of locals. With every new conflict and battle comes a new wave of displaced refugees. And the majority of IDPs in Mindanao are Christians as well, navigating this aggressive form of Islam. ICC has recently re-started our work in Mindanao, and we are building a new network of local partners to help Christian refugees suffering from these scary battles and ideological Islamic control.
WHAT ABOUT THE REST OF THE REGION?
Refugee issues abound across Southeast Asia. Christian refugees again feature prominently in these stories too. For instance, Burmese Rohingya Christians face severe persecution in Myanmar and now in Malaysia where hundreds are fleeing to. Then there are those North Korean defectors (including many Christians) who have escaped into South Korea and northern China, but who are now being wickedly returned and extradited back to North Korea to face certain death there. And ongoing wars, conflicts and persecution in China, West Papua, Brunei, and Cambodia lead to more Christian refugees in the region.
FINAL WORD FOR CHRISTIAN RÉFUGIÉ
The state for refugees in this region, especially Christian refugees, is deteriorating at a fast rate. ICC’s specific mission to serve and strengthen suffering Christians in Southeast Asia is lived out strongly as we support Christian refugees amidst all the wars, political instability, Communist control, and radical Islamic forces. Praise God for the privilege to live out this mission in this region and across the globe.
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