Agence France Presse

(AFP) October 25: A rights group that advocates for Myanmar ‘s ethnic Chin minority Wednesday applauded the US government for waiving a law that would allow Chin refugees to come to the United States .

More than 80,000 Chin refugees currently live in Malaysia , India and Thailand . Many fled their homes in western Myanmar due to fighting between Chin rebels and the country’s oppressive military regime.

“This will give the Chin the opportunity to live a normal life,” said Amy Alexander, legal consultant for the Chin Human Rights Organization.

The waiver exempts the Chin from a provision in a US anti-terrorism law — put in place after the September 11 attacks — which bars refugees who have supported armed groups from resettling in the country.

Many Chin refugees provided support for the Chin National Front or its armed wing, the Chin National Army, which has battled Myanmar ‘s military regime for autonomy since 1988. Myanmar ‘s government stands accused by rights groups of killings, torture, rape and other abuses against ethnic minorities.

The secretive regime is also regularly criticized over the treatment of political opponents, particularly prodemocracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for most of the past 17 years.

The Chins, who are 95 percent Christian in a mostly Buddhist nation, have also been persecuted for their religious beliefs.

Many fled to neighboring countries where they have received few protections, often unable to work, attend school or access social services.

“The Chins are living in pretty deplorable conditions in exile,” Alexander said. “They are treated as illegal immigrants.”

The waiver could allow up to 2,000 Chin refugees into the US annually, according to the Chin Human Rights Organization.

In addition to the Chins, the Karen, another ethnic minority in exile in Thailand , received the same waiver in August.

“Hopefully this is a sign that the US is looking to extend waivers to other groups,” Alexander said. Some 17 ethnic groups have battled Myanmar ‘s government to seek autonomy for their regions. Although most have now signed ceasefires, the Chin have not. A 2002 Human Rights Watch report estimated that the Chin National Army had about 500 fighters.

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