Thursday, September 22, 2016

Burma is the largest source of refugees to the U.S.

Burmese emissary Aung San Suu Kyi met with President Obama last week.

NEARLY HALF of all refugees entering the U.S. are Muslim, according to a Pew report.

With most of the media attention and campaign rhetoric focused on the refugees coming from war-torn Syria, the country that actually sending the greatest number of refugees to the United States is going unnoticed.

The Obama administration has informed Congress it wants to increase the number of refugees accepted to the U.S. next year from 85,000 to 110,000.

But it's not Syria, or Iraq or the gang violence-ridden country of Guatemala, that is sending the most refugees here at the moment.

It's Burma.

Burma, also known as Myanmar, sent 18,386 refugees to the U.S. in 2015. Let's hope that Donald Trump doesn't get wind of this news.

In fact, in 2015 that southeast Asian country made up over a quarter of all refugees entering the U.S., almost a 130 percent increase from 2014.

As of mid-August this year, the U.S. has received more than 63,000 refugees, about 22,000 short of the 85,000 ceiling set by the Obama administration at the beginning of fiscal 2016. 

According to a Pew study, Burma (Myanmar) still tops the list with 10,464 refugees, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 10,417; Syria, 8,569; and Iraq, 7,479; are the top origin countries of refugees arriving thus far in 2016. Together, refugees from these four nations represent more almost 60 percent of all refugees admitted to the U.S. this fiscal year.

Pew notes that the number of refugees admitted to the United States has typically been contingent on the state of conflict around the world. The Balkan wars of the 1990s helped drive the flow of resettlement in that period; it reached a peak of 142,000 refugees resettled in the U.S. in 1993.

The primary reason for the exodus from Burma are long-standing fighting between ethnic groups. Thousands of ethnic Karen and Karenni have fled persecution from the former military regime that ran the country for a half-century. Most of them ended up in refugee camps in Thailand and have been resettled in countries around the world, including the United States.

"They've been there for generations, and for some all they've ever known are the refugee camps," said Derek Mitchell, who served as U.S. ambassador to Burma from 2012 until earlier this year. "This is an ethnic conflict that is going on 70 years and drives this country."

The refugee issue was brought up in the talks between President Obama and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi Sept. 14 where they also agreed to the lifting of sanctions against the government of Burma. Both leaders stressed that this does not mean letting the Burmese government off the hook for corruption and human rights abuses.

Suu Kyi said that her top priority now is reconciliation between the countries' various ethnic groups. She has been criticized in the past for not being vocal about the plight of the Rohingya Muslim minority, which has long been denied citizenship in the Buddhist-majority nation.

The plight of the Rohingyas has been monitored by the Council on American-Islamic Relations,, a U.S.-based human rights advocacy group, which has opposed the lifting of sanctions. “In your meetings with Minister Suu Kyi, CAIR requests that you raise the issue of Rohingya refugees as well as ask her to lift the ban on aid allowing all international relief organizations to freely operate in the Burmese state of Rakhinya," read a CAIR statement issued before Obama's meeting with Suu Kyi.

"We are sincere in trying to bring together the different communities," Suu Kyi told the press, saying that citizenship should be extended to everyone who is entitled to it.