We are resettling tens of thousands of Burmese refugees presently housed in UN run camps in Thailand. Resettlement agencies in the US are quick to tell us that most are Karen or Chin Christians who fought in the democracy movement in Myanmar (aka Burma), but here is a story that confirms rumors we have been hearing. Some refugees resettled in the US and elsewhere in the West are not who they claim to be. One rumor I’ve heard from someone personally knowledgeable about the camps is that Muslims are mixing in with the Christians and moving to the head of the line.
This article apparently first published in the Irrawaddy earlier this month and republished in The Sail, tells us that rampant immigration fraud is occurring in camps. Although the story does not mention Muslims (or Rohingya), it does tell us there are claims that UNHCR workers are involved in the fraud.
MAE SOT — Since 2005, when resettlement began, a network of brokers has evolved to assist individuals from Burma who wish to enter the refugee camps and resettle in a third country.
The black market business has helped many to escape Burma— but not always the people who fit the criteria and need resettlement the most.
Residents at the three main camps around Mae Sot, who are waiting for resettlement, blame the influx of “fake applicants” for the long delays they endure. Many claim that the “pseudo-refugees” leave the camps first, deferring the resettlement of real applicants
“I see many fake refugees coming into the camp. They pay the brokers and the camp authorities. Then they get resettled first,” said Bo Bo, a resident at Nu Po camp.
He explained how he came to the camp in a large group from Mon State where their land was stolen by Burmese government forces. As farmers, they had been stripped of their entire livelihood. So, with nothing left, they fled to the border.
“We have to wait longer because the brokers help the fake refugees into the camp and they leave first. It’s not fair on us, We remain in the camp with nothing while they continue to run their businesses, often returning to Myawaddy and Rangoon,” he said.
Is “substitution” occurring? Do UN workers particpate in the fraud?
It has been alleged that the camp authorities are working in cahoots with the brokers and have become immersed in the corruption and fraud that has sprung up around the resettlement process. Residents claim that brokers pay the palat for their clients’ entrance to the camp, allowing people with no valid refugee claim to enter.
The issue of identity theft has been accepted by resettlement agencies, but people continue to speculate who and what has allowed this problem to occur.
“Substitution is a major problem,” explained a former UNHCR worker who wished to remain anonymous. “No one is sure who is behind it, but it’s very possible that some UNHCR staff members are involved—they have power in the camps and oversee what goes on.
“It’s hard to tackle because everyone is too scared to complain. People in the camps don’t know if they are complaining to the actual people who are involved in the corruption and are worried that everyone will find out,” she said.
The refugee and migrant worker communities in and around Mae Sot have long accused UNHCR staff of being involved in the broker network. There’s no evidence to prove it, but many say they know people who have paid staff to arrange resettlement.
Some time ago we had a comment from a refugee resettlement agency employee who said he/she had expressed surprise to learn that among the Burmese refugees his agency was resettling, some did not speak either the Karen or the Chin language and he asked his supervisors who they were. He said the response he got was something along the lines of ‘don’t ask!’
Utah refugee murderer
And, I continue to wonder about the case in Utah (almost a year and a half ago, here) where a Burmese refugee brutally murdered a little Burmese Karen girl in his apartment complex. I don’t know what happened with the case, but at the time someone reported to me that the murderer was known to the people in the building as someone who came to their camp and got to the head of the line for resettlement.