Utica, N.Y.—The military coup in Myanmar might be thousands of miles away, but refugees right here in Utica are feeling the impact as they worry about family members back home. The Utica Karen Community made up of refugees from Myanmar, held a rally in Oneida Square today to denounce the military coup, and to bring attention to the local community about what is happening in Myanmar.
One of the organizers of the rally, Daniel asked us not to use his last name for fear of the repercussions his family could face back home.
“Frankly I’m very worried for my family members, Daniel said. “I still have relatives over there in Burma I worry for their safety and their future.”
Myanmar, also known as Burma, is a southeast nation made up of over 100 different ethnic groups, one of which is the Karen people. Myanmar has been well on its way toward democracy for the last decade, but on February 1st the Burmese military ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, alleging a fraudulent election, and prevented members of the ruling party from opening a new session of parliament. Power was handed to military chief Min Aung Hlaing and they declared a state of emergency for one year, after which they will hold a new election. The coup on February 1st is reminiscent of the coup that took place in Burma back in 1988, where thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators were murdered by security forces.
“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 suffering under this military dictator over 70 years.”
Many haven’t been able to get in contact with their relatives back in Burma and if they do, they are concerned about the possible repercussions those conversations could have for their family.
“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.”
Members of the Utica Karen Community joined with 91 Burma ethnic community organizations in the nation and sent a letter to President Joe Biden to call on his support in holding the Burma army accountable for the crimes they’ve committed.