Many people talk about migrants but don’t listen to their stories. Compassion happens when we really listen to another’s story.
Archbishop Charles Bo, the leader of the Catholic Community in Myanmar recently shared a moving message highlighting the pain and also the hopes of so many migrants and refugees forced to remain ‘away from their home’ of Myanmar.
It is a striking message highlighting the challenge of migrants and the response of host countries.
He asks that we become like parents to the ‘orphans’ who arrive in foreign lands.
We urgently plead with all bring peace. Do not displace our people. Our families are broken into pieces. Please give a chance and make our people be united in the families. Pope Francis calls for the integrity of families as the first duty of all. We urge you unite our families. Let our children live with their parents, and parents have the joy of seeing their children every day.
Below is his full message delivered on a special day for the People of Myanmar – Parents Day – when families and communities celebrate and show great respect to their parents.
Parents’ Day Message and Prayer – Charles Cardinal Bo, Yangon Myanmar, 2016
God is our Father. God is our mother. The Bible has a beautiful sentence. Even if the mother forgets her child, I shall not forget you. When we honor our parents we honor God himself. I extend my prayerful wishes to all the parents. The Bible is full of praise for parents. It opens with the first parents. Abraham is our father of faith. We have the holy family. Jesus was brought up by two holy parents. Parents are closer to God since they cooperate in bringing life to this world. Life is a gift from God. Parents are willing to receive that gifts and nurture it and help the life to go.
But this year we wish to turn our attention to those who are away from our dear mother land – Myanmar. We know we are around 55 million people. We are from 135 tribes. We are all sons and daughters of this nation. But this year I wish to bring to our attention the heart breaking conditions of millions of our brothers and sisters who are living like orphans away from this land.
Migrant workers without any legal protection
Nearly three million of our brothers and sisters do not live in this mother land. They are living in foreign lands. Many of them left in the eighties and the nineties – often trafficked by the human trafficking mafia since this great nation and its rulers those days refused to give a quality education, refused to create local opportunities for employment, our innocent youth were forced into risky migration.
Many of them are slaves in Thailand, in Malaysia and in China. Recently we read about the ‘ boat slaves’ who were chained to the boats every day after their work. They are all from Myanmar and some of them were considered dead by their families because they could not communicate with the outside world. Our heart goes to them.
We appeal to authorities; these are made orphans by an inhuman system. Our Myanmar people are graceful people, non-violent and kind to all and this has become a liability. They have become the slaves of South East Asia. I urge the government to become their parents and bring them home. This land belongs to them. They are not orphans.
Refugees in the Camps
Thousands fled the civil wars of the last five decades. Many were given asylum in the first world countries. But thousands were waiting in futile hope of being resettled in the third country. That hope is turning into a night mare. No third country is willing to accept them. For decades our people termed as refugees are standing in queues looking for the international handouts. But these hand outs are dwindling. International community is tired of the Myanmar refugees. The camp conditions are abominable. We recently made a visit to these camps. These are black holes of despair sucking our people into a bottomless bit of despair and inhumanity. These are children forgotten by mother Myanmar.
I urge the government of Myanmar and Thailand and the UN agencies to accelerate the process of safe return and rehabilitation of thousands of our country men and women. I urge the government to hand over the lands of our people, ensure quality education and employment, making the return a dignified process for our people whose camp life is really turning into a valley of bones.
I urge the concerned people to blow the spirit of hope into these camps and let the children of Myanmar come back to their mother land. They cannot sing the Lord’s song in an Alien land.
IDPs internally displaced people inside Myanmar
War, mines, natural disasters, and dams have displaced nearly a million in our country. They are away from their homes. Nearly 300,000 of victims of civil conflicts languish in the camps. Their youth are not with them. Their families are fragmented. Youth are trafficked to China, to Thailand and to Malaysia. Their mothers cannot be consoled because unscrupulous elements snatch their children.
Modern day Herods target a whole generation through war and displacement. The lands of our people are confiscated by those who have guns – both the government and non-state actors are culpable in making our people orphans – depriving them of their core identity – land. Millions of acres of our people’s land have passed on to the cronies and companies. Our people are refugees in their own land. These landless people are the latest and the largest group of orphans.
We urge the international community to pressurize both the government and the non-state actors to return the lands of our people.
Our brothers and sisters – victims of fear and continuing war
Thousands of Karens and Kachins are like children without parents. They are refugees for decades. Land mines abound in their original places. War continues. They want to come back but fear chokes their spirit. If there is no peace, millions of our people are made orphans due to fear. They refuse to return. How can we be happy of return of democracy and a leadership lauded for moral witness when millions cannot be at peace? Myanmar needs peace. War has created conditions that are like an orphanage in many parts of our country. Our people are orphaned when the state and the non-state actors instill great fear in them with arms.
In many places our innocent people have to face two governments and two armies. We urgently plead with all bring peace. Do not displace our people. Our families are broken into pieces. Please give a chance and make our people be united in the families. Pope Francis calls for the integrity of families as the first duty of all. We urge you unite our families. Let our children live with their parents, and parents have the joy of seeing their children every day.
People of Good will who are away from their parents because of sacrifice to their fellow human beings
I wish to send my wishes to Myanmar brothers and sisters serving in many nations, as church personnel, NGO workers and in other vocations. You are away in a sign of great sacrifice. You have brought joy and hope to thousands where you serve. You have sacrificed the joy of seeing your parents and dear ones, while you serve people from other cultures. May God be your father and mother and we pray that your sacrifice be rewarded hundred fold.
I also gratefully wish all those foreigners, church personnel, NGO personnel and others whose contribution to this nation and church is an abundant blessing. You have made this your country; you have made our people your brothers and sisters. Many of you are away for a long time from your families and parents. We wish you a great day and affirm our filial love to you ensuring our grateful sentiments. You are our brothers and sisters. As a nation we are marching towards a destiny of hope. We expect our leaders to be like our parents showing no discrimination based on creed or race.
As a church we assure that it will be a kind and merciful parent to those at the margins. As a church we affirm our commitment to serve the migrants, refugees, IDPs, and those who are away from homes. God was the parent to Adam and Eve. God was the parent to the Jews who became slaves in Egypt. God was the father who sent his only son to redeem the world. It is the same father, the Abba, protects us all today.
Marist Asia Foundation celebrates 10 years of supporting Burmese Migrants in Ranong in 2016 with Education, Health and Migrant Support Programmes. We are grateful to so many funding agencies, friends and supporters that allow us to show compassion in action and grow a positive hope for the future in the lives of young Burmese Migrants.