Who are the Ethnic Minorites?


Map showing Burma ethnic diversity
Map and info taken from bbc.co.uk

There are 135 officially recognized ethnic groups located in Burma. Each ethnic group has a different culture & language/dialect. However, they are usually listed into 10 major ethnic groups: Kachin, Karenni(Kayah), Karen(Kayin), Chin, Mon, Bamar, Rakhine, Shan, Rohingya & the Burmese Muslim. According to the CIA Factbook, the Burman population is estimated to be 47M which accounts for 68% of the population.

To learn more visit en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_ethnic_groups_in_Burma & oxfordburmaalliance.org/ethnic-groups.html.

Their Story

For the past 50 years, civil war has left Burma one of the poorest countries in the world. Since 1962, a brutal military junta has been persecuting ethnic minorities, leaving over 3,000 villages destroyed and countless thousands left homeless and fleeing from their own homes.

These internally displaced persons (IDP’s) flee for their lives, often hiding in the mountainous and jungle-forest regions of Burma; living without food, shelter, or water, and in constant fear. Numerous humanitarian organizations have provided documentary evidence of the systematic abuse, torture, rape and murder of ethnic minorities, including the use of IDP’s as porters and for mine-clearing. This evidence has been presented before the United Nations.

Many IDP’s flee for safety into Thailand where the Thai authorities have established refugee camps such as Mae-La, on the Thai side of the border with Burma. This camp has been in existence for 25 years and houses over 50,000 ethnic minorities from Burma; most of whom wish for nothing more than to be able to return to their homes and live peaceably.

Amidst this great suffering, optimism thrives in the ethnic minorities for the future.

Resettling in the U.S.A.

Some Burmese Karen in refugee camps in Thailand are eligible for resettlement to third countries, including the U.S.A., in a program sponsored by the United Nations. If they are approved for relocation, these families and individuals go through a rapid (weeks-to-months) orientation including immunization clinics and some minimal English language training. Once they arrive, the relocated refugees face particular challenges in relocating from rural areas of Burma and Thailand to highly industrialized and developed countries like the U.S.A. In the U.S.A., the refugees within a short space of time (approximately 3-6 months) must:

  • Find suitable accommodation
  • Learn English
  • Secure permanent employment
  • Learn about public transportation
  • Know where and how to buy food, clothing, and other necessities
  • Understand all that is expected of law-abiding citizens in the U.S.A.

Karen refugees are currently in 40 of the 50 US states, with some states having larger polulations than others. Estimates of the total number of Burmese refugees in the USA go up as high as 10,000 with about 2,700 Karen refugees resettling in the USA per year, although numbers are likely under-estimates.
There are an estimated 3,000 refugees from Burmese and Thai refugee camps in Colorado with concentrations in Aurora, Denver and Greeley. Estimates vary on the number of refugees likely to come to Colorado specifically – but there is likely to be significant continued influx of these refugees for many years.


What is the situation in Burma (Myanmar) today?

Burma has been ruled by a brutal military dictatorship for the last 50 years. Ethnic cleansing by the Burman majority of ethnic people has resulted in the destruction of over 3,000 villages, countless internally displaced people, murder, rape and torture and the establishment of refugee camps.

How do the refugees come to the USA?

The Refugees come to the USA under the sponsorship of the U.S. Department of State. Working in and around Thai refugee camps, state department officials work with the International Organization of Migration (www.iom.int) to manage the process of selection and resettlement of refugees who wish to resettle.

How many refugees live in Colorado today?

Precise details on the number of refugees in Denver are unclear. We believe that close to 3,000 ethnic refugees from Burma live in Colorado today. Although a civilian government took control of Burma 18 months ago, new refugees continue to relocate to Colorado.

When will the additional refugees come to Colorado?

Refugees are resettled to Denver regularly, but not under a particular timetable. CBRTN works with the local resettlement agencies to be available to the refugees as they arrive. Again, there is an expected increase in numbers over the coming months and years as legislation becomes more specialized to deal with new arrivals.

Where do the refugees live in Colorado?

The refugees live in close-knit communities, with large concentrations in Aurora, Greeley and Denver.

What sorts of work are the refugees seeking?

The refugees are seeking all types of work, but with minimal English language abilities, most available work has been in unskilled labor areas such as a meat-packing factory, local hotels, cleaning and landscaping work.

Do the refugees in Colorado speak English?

English ability varies greatly, based on degree of exposure in the in refugee camps and school. There are few highly proficient English speakers within the refugee community. Most refugees will improve their English skills through English as a Second Language (ESL) classes.

What is the process of resettlement?

After going through an interview and selection process under the International Organization of Migration (http://www.iom.int) and U.S. Department of State, relocation is handled by local refugee resettlement agencies in the host state. In Colorado, there are three such agencies: Lutheran Family Services, The African Community Center and Ecumenical Refugee and Immigration Services, Inc. The agencies help with housing, healthcare, education and employment. As with other state and government agencies, there is always more to be done than the agencies can meet immediately. Wherever possible, CBRTN works alongside the agencies to assist them.

What challenges are faced in resettling?

The refugees come out of the jungle and rural refugee camps and are given only a very short amount of time to become proficient in living in the U.S.A. They need to quickly master keeping track of their finances, records and paperwork, U.S. laws, public transportation, shopping, English language and many more day-to-day skills. Some culture shock is eased by the growing size of local refugee communities but the change is still drastic.

What religion are the ethnic minorities?

Many of the refugees coming to the U.S.A are Baptists, due to the pioneering work of Baptist missionaries in Burma at the turn of the 19th century, with a small minority of Roman Catholics. In many refugee camps there are Bible schools and churches. The ethnic minorities in Burma may also be Buddhist, Muslim or Animists.

What is being done by the U.S. government regarding the situation facing the ethnic minorities?

With the inception of a civilian government last year (albeit with strong ties to the military junta), the U.S. government has relaxed, or is in the process of relaxing, its trade restrictions with Burma(Myanmar). Aung San Syu Kyi was released from house arrest and allowed to seek a parliamentary seat, which she succeeded in doing.

What other organizations are helping the ethnic minorities?

ZOA www.zoa.nl
International Christian Services www.shareanopportunity.org

Documentation of Human Rights Violations
Free Burma Rangers www.freeburmarangers.org
Partners Relief and Development http://www.partnersworld.org
Christian Freedom International http://www.christianfreedom.org

Medical Relief
Doctors Without Borders www.doctorswithoutborders.org
Shoklo Malaria Research Unit www.shoklo-unit.com

Political Pressure and Raising Awareness
US Campaign for Burma www.uscampaignforburma.org
UK Campaign for Burma www.burmacampaign.org.uk

Learn their language

Useful Karen Phrases:

Hello: Ha-lo
Good morning: go-leu-a-geh
Good afternoon: ni-leu-a-geh
Good evening: ha-leu-a-geh
Good night: noh-leu-a-geh
How are you?: neu oh-soo-ah
I am fine: yeu oh-soo-ooh
Thank you: da-bleu
When did you arrive here?: neuh heh dtoo ah kah peh leh
Do you have everything you need?: neuh loh-tha dtah dteuh mi-mi ah

Learn more at DrumPublications.com

Useful Burmese Phrases:

Hello: min ga la ba
Good morning: mengla ma-net khin ba
Good afternoon: mengla ne’ lare khin ba
Good evening: mengla nya nay khin ba
How are you?: k’amyà ne-kaùn-yéh-là (male) shin ne-kaùn-yéh-là (female)
I’m well: ne-kaùn-ba-deh
Thank you: cè-zù tin-ba-deh
Your Welcome: ya-ba-deh

Learn more at LexiLogos.com

Learn More From Our Friends

Many organizations are helping the ethnic minorities in their plight all over the world.


The following links show maps related to the Ethnic Minorities

Burma and its ethnic states


Topographical Burma/Thailand


Map of Refugee camps along border


Map of locations in Thailand and Burma



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