Burma is one of the most diverse countries in the world, with 8 main ethnic groups and more than one hundred sub-groups. Burma is also home to one of the world’s most repressive and abusive military regimes. According to Human Rights Watch in 2009, ethnic minorities are ruthlessly persecuted with human rights violations ranging from “forced labor, land confiscation, rape, detention, torture and death.” The conflict in Burma has been raging for the past 50 years, which makes it the longest running civil war in the world.
Over 800,000 refugees from Burma have been forced to leave their home and land. Many fled to one of the nine camps along the Thai border, only to languish in the camps for decades. Others fled to neighboring countries such as Malaysia where they are considered “illegal” immigrants, and live in constant fear of arrest and detention.
To date, the U.S. has resettled nearly 70,000 refugees from Burma. According to the State Department, over 1,000 refugees from Burma have been directly resettled to Iowa.
EMBARC estimates an additional 4,000 have come to Iowa, as secondary migrants looking for work, in the past 3 years. Secondary migrants often come to Iowa with little to no support. There has been an influx of refugees from Burma to meatpacking towns such as Columbus Junction, Marshalltown, Waterloo, Storm Lake and Postville in the past three years.
Ethnic refugees from Burma are the largest group resettled to Iowa every year for the past 5 years. The Karen community are estimated to be the largest ethnic group in Iowa, followed by the Chin and the Karenni. Ethnic members from the Shan, Kachin, Mon, Arakan and Burman communities also reside in Iowa, though in much smaller numbers.