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Published on 09 May, 2012

Burma reforms cause unexpected side effect for refugees

Burma (MNN) — Global euphoria over changes in Burma isn't
trickling down to the ones it should most affect: the Karen Christian refugees.

There's still a great deal of danger and  mistrust surrounding the camps, which
prevents many of the Internally Displaced People from making their way back to
home villages in the heart of Burma.

A case in point: one reform initiative involves the Burmese
government, rebels, and a ceasefire agreement. Although inked, there's concern that the talks were a cover for another
conflict.

Since the January accord went into effect, there have still
be sporadic reports of shooting civilians and other attacks. According to Compass Direct News reports,
four months ago, more than 1,100 new refugees–about 450 of them Christian–arrived at the seven refugee camps in Thailand. Those numbers swelled the 74,000 registered IDPs and additional 53,000 unregistered refugees
crammed into the space.

Still, the government insists change is on the winds. There have been several concessions in recent
days, not the least of which involved activist Aung Sung Suu Kyi winning a
Parliament seat. It all resulted in an easing of the sanctions. 

However, that's presented an unexpected side-effect for the
refugees: aid is drying up. Since people are expecting that the fighting is
nearing an end, they also expect that
refugees will soon be able to return to their homes, therefore needing less aid
in a camp.

Patrick Klein with Vision Beyond Borders says, "We're
really concerned about it. The European Union was talking about redistributing
some of the funds even before the sanctions were lifted. We felt this would
really affect people in the refugee 
camps. I believe this is an opportunity for the Church to step up more
and more."

However, it's not safe yet for IDPs to leave. "For one
thing, there's a lot of landmines", explains Klein. "It's going to
take years to clear those landmines. One thing we've found too, like with the orphans,
are these kids really ready to go back into Burma? We're trying to figure out
how we prepare them to go back. They don't really have family."

The refugees are effectively trapped between malnutrition
and getting blown up. "Let's help them. Let's give them the
supplies, the funds…whatever they need, so that they can minister to these needs."

Now is the time to answer the call for
aid. It's especially necessary because
the silence has been overwhelming. "Their
cry throughout has been: 'Does the Church care about us?' And, 'How come the
world doesn't really seem to care?' I
believe this is a great opportunity for
the Church, for God's people, to step up and say, 'Let's help.'"

Those in place with a network of believers add another
caution as the country continues to experience the throes of freedom. "We
also need to be praying that God would keep out adverse elements as well. As
the country opens up, there's a lot of people going in to try to exploit
people, especially in a country like Burma. The people have been cut off. They're very naïve." 

Klein says the problems in Burma are a long way from
over. However, the good news is: "We
are seeing people more and more open to the Gospel. We're excited because we're
seeing prayers answered. But I believe we're going to see people coming back.
It's a great opportunity to minister to people. They're open. They've seen a
lot of times Christians have been the ones who've come in and brought aid to
them."

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59719-1385

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