Utica Karen Community Holds Rally in Solidarity with Myanmar, Writes Joint Statement to President Biden

Members of the Burmese refugee community gathered in Oneida Square on February 15th, 2021 to protest the recent military coup and raise local awareness of current events in Myanmar (also known as Burma).

On February 1st, after a decade of progress towards democracy, the Burmese military arrested 24 senior government officials, claiming that Myanmar’s November 2020 election was fraudulent. The military installed a new leader and declared a year-long state of emergency, after which a new election will take place. 

The recent military coup in Myanmar has taken on a personal meaning for Utica’s Karen refugees as many worry about their family and friends back home. In addition to protesting in Oneida Square, the Utica Karen Community, along with 91 Burmese ethnic associations, co-authored a statement to President Joe Biden urging him to hold the Burmese military accountable for their crimes.

Daniel, one of the organizers of the Utica rally, shared his reflections on the situation in Myanmar. He asked reporters to only use his first name so that his family would not be punished as a result of him speaking up.

“Frankly I’m very worried for my family members, Daniel said. “I still have relatives over there in Burma and I worry for their safety and their future.”

In the weeks leading up to the rally in Utica, the Burmese military arrested demonstrators and used weapons to quell peaceful protests. This coup, and the violence associated with it, reminded many of the coup that took place in Burma in 1988, in which security forces murdered thousands of pro-democracy protesters. 

“The anxiety is so surreal. When I heard that the military coup took place, all the memories were brought back to me, the slaughters you know, innocent civilians students being mowed down by machine-gun fire,” Daniel said. “It just really, you know, like had me, at the same time my Karen people are also suffering under this military dictator over 70 years.”

The military had also begun cutting off Internet access in Myanmar. Many have not been able to contact their relatives in Myanmar because they worry that their conversations will be monitored.

“There have been Chinese IT technicians who were flown into Burma,” Daniel said. “And they are going to jam any cell phone signals and block all the internet access, so they are starting to do it, and they are going to monitor all the conversations. So lets say if I were to call my relatives in Burma by using one of those, you know, apps they can monitor the conversations and then my relatives in Burma could get in trouble if they start speaking up against the military generals.”

Originally published by CNY Homepage, 2/15/21

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