Refugee Health Program

About Burmese Refugees

Burma (also known as Myanmar) is in Southeast Asia and bordered by Bangladesh, China, India, Laos and Thailand. Burma is an extremely diverse country, with 138 recognized ethnic groups. About 68 percent of the population is Bamar. Other prominent ethnic groups — including the Shan, Karen, Kayinni, Kachin, Rakhine and Chin — have their own states.

The country has been ruled by a military government since 1962. In 1988 the country had a second military coup which led to a name change to "The Union of Myanmar." In 1990 the State held free elections where the National League for Democracy, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, won the majority of seats. However, the military government refused to give up power and placed Suu Kyi under house arrest.

This military government ruled as the State Peace and Development Council until in March 2011. Elections were held for the first time in 20 years in November 2010, and Suu Kyi was freed one week later. But in the elections 80 percent of the votes were found to be for the military party, and therefore the election has been questioned as fraudulent.

The military government has suppressed the basic human rights of the population, especially in the case of ethnic minorities. Violations include suppression of freedom of expression, association and assembly; land seizure; forced migration; child labor; forced labor and sexual violence. Many of the ethnic states have rebelled against the government.

Due to the ethnic conflict and suppression, many Burmese minorities have fled across the borders to Thailand and Bangladesh. The UN's refugee agency estimates that there are about 92,000 registered refugees from Myanmar and 54,000 unregistered asylum seekers in the nine refugee camps along the Thai border.

The two largest groups to have migrated to the United States are the Karen and the Chin.

The Karen state is located on the Thai border. These people have been requesting autonomy from the Burmese government since 1948, when Burma was granted independence from British colonial rule. This movement turned into armed conflict in the 1970s. The Karen make up the majority of refugees living along the Thai border.

The Chin people live in western Burma, at the Bangladesh border. Many Chin are Christian, having converted from Buddhism under British rule, and have been persecuted for their religion. Chin refugees can be found in India and Malaysia.

The CHOP Refugee Program works with three of the 3 resettlement agencies to care for Burmese children who come to Philadelphia within the first 30 to 60 days of their time in the U.S. CHOP physicians perform physicals, give immunizations and ensure the children will have no medical barriers to enrolling in school.

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