On November 3, a bipartisan group of senators, including Indiana Senator Todd Young, whose state is home to over 9,000 Burmese Americans, introduced legislation that would impose new targeted sanctions on Burmese military officials in response to the ongoing “atrocities and systematic human rights abuses against the Rohingya people”. Since August 25, more than 600,000 Rohingya refugees have been driven into Bangladesh from Burma as part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing on the part of the military.
The next day, the Myanmar Ambassador to the US Aung Lynn and First Secretary and Counselor Swe Sett visited Fort Wayne, Indiana. The city has the largest population of Burmese refugees in the US. Ambassador Lynn encouraged to Fort Wayne’s Burmese community to reach out to local representatives and raise issues relevant to Burmese Americans.
The following Monday, one group of Burmese took up that appeal as thousands of Karen — the largest group of Burmese refugees in the United States — gathered in coordinated rallies in Washington, DC and Lincoln, Nebraska to promote their culture and support the actions that the US was taking against the Burmese military. “This is not a protest, but instead a gathering to support the President of the US and Congress” an announcement from the Karen Organization USA, which organized the gathering stated.
The thousands of Karen who turned out for the rallies represented communities from across the country, including Minnesota, Indiana, Nebraska, and New York. Since coming to the US, these communities have greatly contributed to their new cities, participating in the labor force at high levels and starting new businesses. Burmese refugee neighborhoods in Buffalo, New York, for instance, have seen job growth at nearly three times the countywide rate. Many Burmese Americans came to the US after facing similar persecution from the Burmese military regime. Through these rallies, groups hoped to raise awareness of the human rights abuses Myanmar has perpetrated over the years against not just the Rohingya, but also the Karen, Kachin, Shan, and other minority ethnic groups that now live throughout their local communities.
Jake Howry is a Georgetown University Graduate Student and Intern at the East-West Center in Washington