VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 9/28/11)—On September 12, 2011, thirteen representatives from the Burma Refugee Task Force formed a delegation and visited the State Department of the United States to advocate on behalf of the refugees from Burma.
The delegation, led by Rev. A. Roy Medley, general secretary of American Baptist Churches USA, met with officials of the Office of International Religious Freedom; the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL); and the Bureau of East Asia and Pacific Affairs (EAP) Burma Desk, to express concern for the active persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in Burma, and human rights abuses occurring in Burma. The delegation presented a list of recommendations to the DRL and EAP to urge the U.S. to do more on the efforts to establish a UN Commission of Inquiry into crimes against humanity and war crimes in Burma as recommended by the UN Special Rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana. Further, they urged the U.S. to remind countries doing business with Burma of their corporate social responsibilities to follow international fair labor practices and ethically responsible business practices, among other items.
At a second set of meetings with officials of the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), the delegation focused its advocacy on the resettlement process and support of refugees resettled into the United States. Recommendations to PRM included applying pressure on the Royal Thai government to reopen registration in the refugee camps on the Thailand-Burma border and give priority to family reunification. The delegation also asked for the State Department to increase funding for education, improved health services including mental health services, income-generation projects and training. In addition, the delegation urged the State Department to pressure the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to give priority for family reunification to the exiled Burma people in Malaysia.
In discussion of the refugee experience in the United States, the delegation advocated for the availability of increased funding for faith communities providing long-term, sustainable services, including mental health and post-traumatic stress services, increased English-language acquisition programs, job placement training, and community-building activities. The delegation will also seek a future meeting with the Office of Refugees and Resettlement (ORR) regarding human services for refugees settled here in the US.
In his reflection of the meeting, Medley said, “I was extremely pleased at the reception offered us by the staff persons at the State Department. Our long history with Burma and the depth of involvement of our churches with the refugees who have resettled in the US impressed them and gave us credibility in our testimony. We pray that God will use our visit for the benefit of our brothers and sisters in Burma and in exile.”
The Burma Refugees Task Force, formed in 2007, represents Chin Baptist Churches USA, Karen Baptist Churches USA, American Baptist Home Mission Societies, International Ministries, American Baptist Women’s Ministries, and Karen, Chin, and blended congregations. The joint effort has distributed 118 grants totaling over $250,000 to American Baptist churches engaged in ministry with refugees from Burma.
American Baptist Churches is one of the most diverse Christian denominations today, with 5,500 local congregations comprised of 1.3 million members, across the United States and Puerto Rico, all engaged in God’s mission around the world.