Burmese Refugees Seek God, New Life

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RAWANG, Malaysia- It's been more than a year since En Khan Khual fled Burma, leaving behind his wife and two young children.

He had escaped the Burmese soldiers who arrested him and subjected him to forced labor.

"I was sick that day and feeling very weak," he said. "The soldiers forced me to carry very heavy equipment, but every time I stopped to rest, they hit me with their gun and kicked me. When I had the chance, I dropped the machine and ran away."

Khual is among an estimated 8,000 illegal migrants from Burma, now living in makeshift camps in the jungles of Malaysia.

There are about six Zomi camps scattered all across Malaysia. A couple of weeks ago, the Malaysian army entered one camp and burned it to the ground.

Living in the demeaning conditions is far from ideal, but for the Burmese migrants, it's a step towards fulfilling their dream of having a dignified life.

Langh Khan Sian proudly showed his registered refugee id, issued to him by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

"I prayed so hard to get registered as a refugee. This is not luck. I believe this is God's gift because he knows my suffering," he said.

In Burma, Khan had been imprisoned on charges of rebelling against the government. In 1999, he was bailed out of the prison but immediately sold to the owner of a fishing boat.

"We worked for 24 hours. No rest and no time to eat," Khan explained. "When I am sick, I get very scared because I saw very sick people who cannot recover thrown overboard."

Of the 38,000 illegal migrants in Malaysia, only a handful are granted refugee status. The country's ability to grant refugee status is limited.

Paul Maang, secretary of the Zomi Association of Malaysia, said the people have no choice but to wait.

"We come here not for a better life but for safer life," he said.

Maang spent five and a half years in prison in Burma for religious and political reasons.

"I shared Jesus to my Burmese colleagues and they accept him as their saviour," he said. "I was actively involved in 1996 demonstration, Demand Democracy for Burma. After one year they arrested me."

After his release from prison, authorities refused to return his national identity card, making him illegal in his own country. His status in Malaysia is illegal as well, but Paul said in Malaysia, he is free to pursue a higher purpose.

"Here many Zomi also suffer," he said. "I decide to help my people who are sick and for those arrested, manage their release. My purpose is to help my people and I know this is the purpose of Jesus."

Yante Ismail, external relations officer for UNHCR , said this kind of support is needed by assylum seekers waiting for assistance.

"The best hope for a refugee is if people of that country open their hearts and be compassionate and accept them and understand this is a unique group of people who are desperately in need of our help and assistance."

The Zomi Chin tribe is not losing hope. They believe that someday God will bring them and other displaced people from Burma back to their homeland, or at least to a place they can finally call home.

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George Thomas

George Thomas

CBN News Senior Reporter

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