This is a comment we received in an e-mail to RRW in response to my post earlier in the week about the conflict on-going in Pittsburgh regarding Burmese Karen refugees and their charge that Catholic Charities hired a Burmese interpreter and not one who understands the Karen dialect. This is from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette:
The protest was organized by Three Rivers Coalition for Justice, a group with ties to organized labor that helps workers with problems such as evictions. It printed a leaflet claiming that Catholic Charities had assigned the Karens a Burmese translator who did not speak the Karen dialect and who treated them with contempt.
A reader, Madeleine, from the UK wanted us to know the following:
In the 2nd World War, the majority of ethnic groups in Burma fought the Japanese. The Karen (and Karenni, an affiliate ethnic group of the Karen), Kachin and Chin fought for Britain and the Allies. The Americans would know the Kachin better as they were in a different part of Burma. This knowledge of who were really our Allies has been suppressed since the end of the 2nd World War, firstly by P.M. Atlee and then consequent British Governments
The Karen played a vital role in saving many, many lives of British and Allied Soldiers from Japanese Prisoner of War Camps. They did this during the conquest of Burma by the Japanese during the retreat of British and Allied Soldiers. They harried the Japanese coming in through Thailand, giving time for the Allied Soldiers to escape and then guided them out through various paths. During the Japanese occupation, the Karen sent out vital Intelligence to the Armies in India. The Japanese knew they were doing this and they would slaughter and torture the Karen when they could find them, men, women and children. With this Intelligence, the Allies were able to re-take Burma and again the Karen were instrumental in the success of this by harrying the Japanese; they were between the Japanese and Allied lines. I have Attached an article supporting this from ‘Dekho’ – The Journal of the Burma Star Association, U. K.
The British colonial administration headed by Mountbatten betrayed the Karen who had been promised that they would be protected after the War from those who fought for the Japanese and that they would be granted statehood in line with the other groups in Burma. Instead, Mountbatten handed over the first Independent Burma Government to those who fought for the Japanese. The Karen were not heard and in many cases not represented at the so-called ‘Democratic’ process of the British Government.
Almost immediately after Independence, those who fought for the Japanese, now the Burma Government, opened fire on the unarmed Karen, blowing up their Churches, their villages, killing men, women and children.
For the Karen, the 2nd World War has never ended. They are being tortured, using techniques taught by the Japanese to the Burman during the War, burnt alive, raped, tortured; for instance, one accredited report states how the Burman Military Junta (Tatmadaw) came across a Karen family in hiding. They tied up the parents and threw their infant onto the campfire where these poor parents had to watch.
The Karen are being slaughtered because:
1) They were part of the Allies of the British & the Allies in the 2nd World War
2) A large majority of them are Christian – the most devoted Christians I have ever met
3) Their homeland is very rich in minerals particularly substances for nuclear use, rubies and oil.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the use of a Burman translator or interpreter can only be detrimental to the Karen. I say this because I have had first-hand experience. When I was assisting in claims for Asylum for the Karen here in the U. K., it became clear that the Court appointed Burman was, quite frankly, lying, when he interpreted to the Judge from a Karen claimant. At other times he omitted to interpret all that the Karen had said. I immediately set about finding and putting Karen translators and interpreters onto an official government web site. Since then, British authorities have only appointed Karen to translate and interpret for Karen.
Note to the US State Department: Why not identify the Karen refugees who speak English well and get them out of chicken processing plants and into interpreting jobs.