Beuler Say of Aldergrove took part in a protest in April in Vancouver, along with other members of the Karen Community. Say comments, “I can’t stay quiet anymore. My cousins are running for their lives. I have to do something!” Say was a child when her family arrived in Canada, but she remembers the hardship they faced in the refugee camps. Today many members of Say’s family are among the 20,000 Karen people who have been displaced and are on the run due to the military coup that took place in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) on February 1, 2021.
The protest was organized by Luke Moo and the BC Karen Canadian Youth Leaders. The protest was to bring awareness to the desperate situation in Myanmar and to ask the Canadian government to take a stand against the ongoing genocide. “We wanted this protest to reach international communities so they would become aware of the situation in Myanmar and to help them,” says Moo.
“We want the Canadian government to put pressure on countries such as Russia and China to stop supplying arms and weapons to the Myanmar military. We are urging the Canadian government to increase humanitarian assistance for our people who are fleeing war in the Karen State and other parts of Burma,” adds Say.
The Karen are a large ethnic group who make up approximately seven percent of the total Burmese population. Soon after the second world war ended civil war broke out between the Karen and the Burmese. In 2005, after a major offensive by the Myanmar government, close to 140,000 Karen people were displaced and forced into Thai refugee camps located along the border with Myanmar. In 2007, the Canadian government, as part of the Government Assisted Refugee Resettlement Program, brought a number of Karen families to this country.
Luke Moo and his family arrived a year later. Like the Say family, Moo settled into life in Canada. The son of an Anglican priest, Moo’s father was assigned to the MEA Ra Moe Refugee Camp. He was 20 years old when the family arrived here in 2008. Since then he has graduated from High School and attained his Hospitality Management Diploma. While working, Moo is pursuing his goal of becoming a school teacher. “It is very hard to go through school together with work, but I believe that I can do it one day,” he says optimistically.
Life in Myanmar was never easy for the Karen people, but in 2021 things became much worse. On the morning of February 1, a Coup began and the democratically elected leaders of the country’s ruling party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) were deposed by Myanmar’s military. The Coup occurred the day before Myanmar’s Parliament were about to swear in the members elected in the 2020 National election. State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint were detained and charged with breaching campaign guidelines and Covid 19 restrictions under Section 25 of the National Disaster Management Law. On April 1, Aung San Suu Kyi was also charged with violating the country’s Official Secrets Act.
Moo sees these arrests as a sham and feels the true reason the leaders were detained is because the military wishes to retain its hold on power. “In my opinion, the Military leaders looked for a way to seize Win Myint and Aung San Suu Kyi because they do not want to lose their power,” he explains. Myanmar has an abundance of natural resources including timber, petroleum, natural gas, and precious metals. Because of the extensive poverty, a military Dictatorship, and a prolonged civil war, the country’s economy remains undeveloped. Moo blames the Military primarily. “The Military leaders control all those resources and destroy the environment. The Military leaders prioritize genocide and swallow all the resources we have in Myanmar only for their families,” he adds.
Conditions continue to be dire for the Karen people despite an announced cease fire, the Myanmar military has continued its airstrikes and stepped up its ground attacks in the northern Karen state. “Many of them must flee (the Karen people) from their homes and from their families. Some run to the Thai border for temporary shelter,” says Moo. Unfortunately, the Thai government has denied them entry and they have been ordered back to Myanmar. “Many of their homes were burnt down and are being destroyed by the territory’s military army. They are facing a terrible situation; all lives are at risk to death,” says Moo.
To date over 700 civilians including women and children have been killed by the Military and/or police forces. Almost 3,100 people have been detained and three prominent NLD members have died while in police custody. Most recently was Myanmar Poet Khet Thi. He and his wife were detained for interrogation. She was released but he was killed. No explanation was given, she was simply told to come and pick up his body.
Moo is planning more protests and while he acknowledges that doing so during Covid times is very difficult, he has no plans to stop until the situation in Myanmar improves. “I would like to do as many protests as I can,” he says. “This is a great nightmare for me to see but I am proud of the younger generation who are taking a stand for a better future for the Karen people left behind in Myanmar,” he adds.
In addition to the protests, Moo and Say will be lobbying Langley’s Members of Parliament’s Tamara Jansen and Tako Van Popta. They want to impress upon the MP’s that the International community must take a stand against ethnic cleansing by an oppressive military. “It’s time for the international community to realize that it was a mistake to promote and fund the deeply flawed peace process amid the Tatmadaw’s (official name of the Burmese military) never-ending attacks in ethnic territories,” Moo explains.
In addition to protests, the Karen community are also fundraising to help their families back home. Recently the BC Karen Canadian Youth Leaders held a bottle drive and have launched a Facebook Campaign, entitled ‘For Internally Displaced People in Karen State of Burma’. Other members of the community have raised donations through food fundraisers.
Always concerned for her family in Myanmar, Say explains that the conditions have worsened so much in the past six months it has prompted her to do something. In addition to attending the protest and lobbying the government, Say is helping to fundraise. “There are already a number of fundraisers going on in our community right now, from selling food, doing bottle drives, and collecting cash donations. We are doing whatever we can to help support our fellow refugees back home. Because we have experienced the atrocities firsthand we know how difficult it is for them to survive in the jungle at this time,” she says.