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Catholic youths meet Karen refugees

Social awareness program delivers a powerful Easter message for young Asian participants

Catholic youths meet Karen refugees
A volunteer administers eyedrops for a refugee patient reporter, Rawang

April 26, 2011

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Two dozen Catholic youths from across South and Southeast Asia say they had a “meaningful” Easter after meeting Karen refugees during a social awareness program in Kuala Lumpur. The “Youth Social Awareness for Asian youth Leaders” program organized by the International Catholic Movement for Intellectual and Cultural Affairs saw them head on Saturday for a two-day trip to meet 400 refugees staying in the hills of Sugai Jerlit in Rawang, 150 kilometers north east of the Malaysian capital. Participants chatted with the refugees from Myanmar, listening to their stories, while workers belonging to the Malaysian Karen Organizations distributed or administered free medicines to several HIV patients. After staying the night, the participants celebrated Easter Mass at a nearby Church. “I entered Malaysia through Thailand after paying a 1,000-ringgit [US$334] bribe to the agent,” said one young refugee Saw Aku. He said his parents were dead and the Burmese army forced him to be a porter. “But one day, when the army and rebels were fighting, I took the opportunity to run away,” he said. Most of the refugees said life in the camp was hardly ideal, but nevertheless better than Myanmar. “I came to earn money as I am the oldest child in my family. I am not sure if I can go back home. If the political and economic situation improves, I will think about going back home,” said Win Htut, a 15 year old boy. Nazia, a young participant from Pakistan said that she felt sad at the plight of the refugees, especially that of Win Htut. She said being able to spend Easter with the refugees was “meaningful.” Adrian Pereira, one of the program’s coordinators said Easter for the young participants had been a moving experience. “Aside from the normal routine of going to Church, by getting together with these poor people, we could experience the resurrected Christ,” he said. The UN estimates around there are around 100,000 Burmese refugees from various ethnic groups in Malaysia. All of them are considered illegal aliens as Malaysia has not ratified the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees.
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