By Asian Beacon

“Do you want me to die in Chin country? The situation there is very dangerous”

That was the answer that James Bawi Thang Bik, coordinator of Alliance of Chin Refugees (ACR) was given by a new refugee arrived from the Chin state in Western Myanmar.

The man had just ran away from his war-torn country. Similarly, like the Rohingya, the Chin are also refugees from Myanmar. Yet they are not as well covered as the Rohingya in the media.

Forgotten Family
James with Marianne, a Malaysian who dedicates her time to help the Chins

So why are the Chins so important to us as Christians? It is not just because they are refugees fleeing their war-torn country. They are an ethic group from Myanmar who are predominantly Christian. In fact, 98% of the Chins are Christians, meaning they are brothers and sisters in Christ.

In fact, as James explained in Australia that the Chin in Myanmar are so synonymous with the term Christianity. There is even a saying in Australia which said that “where there is a Chin, there is bound to be a church,”.

They too suffer the same plight that the Rohingya community suffer, yet very little is known about them in the local Malaysian media even though Malaysia has the biggest hub of Chin refugees to stay in. In Malaysia, they are almost an unknown refugee group that have apparently seemed to be forgotten. Almost unheard of even among the majority of Malaysian Christians.

Who are the Chins?

The Chins come from the Chin State, a state in western Myanmar. It is a mountainous region with few transportation links. A sparsely populated area and remains one of the least developed areas of the country. Chin State has the highest poverty rate of 73%, yet the Chin State is currently the only state in Burma with a Christian majority.

“We face a lot of persecutions being Christians in Myanmar. This is due to the fact that the first Prime Minister of Myanmar, U Nu wanted only one religion which is Buddhism and one language. So, he hated Christians as he said that Christianity is a Western belief,” James explained.

Forgotten Family
Class in session

Since then he was always hostile towards the Chins. But James explained the reason why the Chins never voiced up was because they did not know that they were being persecuted. For them it had become a way of life.   

“The government allowed the Chin to practice their religion but within a limit. We cannot have a gathering of more than 10 people to worship. But this has not stopped people from throwing stones at us when we come to gather. The authorities also removed the crosses we set up on the mountains and replaced them with pagodas. It was only with the arrival of the internet and social media that we had the awareness of basic human rights,” he added.

Forgotten Family
A map of Burma, and the Chin State

He also added that what recently happened to the Rohingya, had been happening to the Chin for over the past 60 years.

“We are just as persecuted and have been facing it even longer. But, because we the Chin people are very strong in our Christian faith, we forgive our enemies. We didn’t attack the army or the soldiers that came to our villages. Even today we still face opposition in the Chin state. Missionaries who came here were persecuted by Buddhist people. One of the missionaries recently was beaten up. The village was then given a warning that all Christians should convert into Buddhism,” he explained.

He added that now, since they are aware of human rights, many fled the country.

“The things we thought were the norms in our villages were actually not the norms in the outside world. Seeing these for ourselves, opened our mind. A lot of Chins fled to Malaysia due to the opportunities here,” he said.

Alliance of Chin Refugees

The Chin people have lived in Malaysia for many years now. Due to their large numbers, approximately 30,000 Chins, the Alliance of Chin Refugees Community Centre was established in 2005 as a one stop centre for the Chin community.

Base near Jalan Imbi near the heart of KL city, the centre acts as a refugee school, clinic, cum an administration office to aid and handle legal issues of those who want to apply for refugee cards.

“Because 98% of the Chins in Malaysia are Christians, the centre is also where we conduct services. Students of the school also have early morning devotion before starting class,” James explained.

Forgotten Family
They also have a legal office to help applicants for refugee card

He added that generous donations from certain groups have helped the centre run for many years.

“Most of our finance come from donations. Some churches like SIB KL donate money to us, as well as from big corporations like Time Square. This is how we keep the school and the centre running. But that is all about to change,” James said worriedly.

Forgotten Family
The ACR Logo

The Current Crisis.

The reason is because The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has decided to begin the process of ending refugee status for them beginning this August. Without this status, James fears that donations will stop. Worse would be that in the year 2019 onwards any Chins staying here will no longer be considered as refugees and will be sent back to the Chin state by the end of 2019. 

School office at the ACR centre

But what is more worrying for him and his fellow Chins is that the agency apparently deems the Chin state is safe to return to.

“This is a misconception by UN, as they believe that the Chin state is safe which is far from the truth. There are still military confrontations in Chin state,” James explained. 

He and other Chins are fighting for the rights of the Chin refugees so that they may stay here and they won’t be sent back if it is still unsafe.

Forgotten Family
The computer room for students to use

“The Burma government has not been very open. Even if we go back to Burma now our current status is unknown. They deny us our citizenship and we are not sure if Chin children will have the right to enroll into schools,” James emphasized.

To further prove the point, refugees from Chin state are still arriving in Malaysia, fleeing the unrest there.

“I asked one newcomer from Chin state why he decided to come to Malaysia when conditions here are very unfavourable. He told me that if he had stayed back he might die due to the ongoing fighting there,” James added.

Forgotten Family
Chin Refugee Clinic

 In the meantime, without their refugee cards it would mean the lost of affordable health care and making them vulnerable to all sorts of unscrupulous individuals who would take advantage of their sudden illegal status.

Without refugee status protection many Chins fear arrest. In fact, many have faced such situations prior to this, and were forced to give large amounts of money for their release. Due to this reason, a lot have gone into hiding to avoid arrest.

Forgotten Family
James and one of the nurses checking some records

“Some even have committed suicide as they feel there is no future back in Chin state,” James said sorrowfully.

He added that there are those who have gone into the jungles of Malaysia to hide. In the recent landslide tragedy in Cameron Highlands, about three Chin refugees died in a landslide James said. James urges the churches in Malaysia to pray that the newly elected Malaysian government would be able to grant legal working permits for the Chin communities. 

As such the church should remember the least of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Because God’s family comes before nationality. As such it is the hope of the Chin people that the churches in Malaysia will come to their aid.

Let us be reminded of Matthew 25: 40 where Jesus Himself said “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”