Saturday, August 29, 2009

Quick thoughts on Burma, crime, refugees, immigrants.


Just some quick thoughts. First, Burma is a mess. Of course, it has been for a long time and probably will continue to be so for an even longer time. But to get some idea of how the country is structured this map is useful.:

The map comes from p. 98, "In Search of Southeast Asia --A Modern History,":Edited by David Joel Steinberg, co. 1971, 1985, 1987, University of Hawaii Press. Essentially what it shows is the limits of civilization and governmental influence in the eighteenth century in Southeast Asia. The darker areas on the map are the areas where civilization and governmental control were the strongest in the eighteenth century in Southeast Asia. The further one got from the government, the more their control and cultural influence faded away until ultimately yet gradually one found oneself in the midsts of mountains or jungle where tribal peoples who neither spoke the language of or even cared about the central government lived exclusively. I wrote about this a bit long ago on this blog. Essentially what you will see for Burma is an area that was controlled by the central government. This is where the Burmese and the Mong primarily live. Then you will see an area around the edge of the country where most of the other peoples, the Karen, Chin, Kashin, Shan, Kareni, Wa, etc., live. This area was not under the control of the central government. (The other ethnic groups, the South Asians and the Chinese, came later, arriving after the country was under British control.) It is these outer areas where much of the current fighting and ethnic persecution is taking place and it is from these areas that many of the more obscure ethnic groups who make up the refugees from Burma come from.

This week there was much fighting in the region and it was widely reported in the press. Here's a BBC map of the area where the new fighting is taking place as well as the area of bordering China, Yunnan province, where people from Burma are fleeing as refugees.:

Yunnan is one of the most interesting (and by Chinese standards backwards) places in China and is full of many interesting ethnic groups who often straddle the national borders of the region.

The Shan are an ethnic group from Burma. I only know one Shan in the Albany area, but undoubtedly there are a few more hidden away somewhere. I was very surprised to learn that there were Wa and Karenni here as well. The Shan, incidentally, for years popped up in international discussions on the drug trade as their region was controlled by a half Chinese, half Shan opium warlord named Khun Sa (sometimes spelled Khun Sha) who had his own private army and made a fortune off of selling narcotics while making claims that he was actually working for the liberation of the Shan people. It was quite exotic and exciting sounding, as well as an actual global problem, and appeared in almost any book from the early '90s that discussed the issue of Chinese transnational crime networks, a hot topic at the time and one that I wrote a book about in 1995 ("Tongs, Gangs and Triads," the book has strengths and weaknesses, but it has received some praise from people in important positions who, like me, felt it filled a niche.) Khun Sa essentially retired, surrendering in 1996, then relocating to Rangoon (Yangon) where the government refused to extradite him, despite frequent requests from abroad and from where he was often still reported to be running an extensive opium smuggling network. Khun Sa died in October of 2007, reportedly of natural causes.

Undoubtedly the region is still an opium source country and part of the so-called "Golden Triangle," of Laos, Thailand and Burma, a region that, along with Afghanistan, is one of the world's primary sources for opium and narcotics.

Which, as near as I can tell, has nothing much to do with refugees, but for reasons related to recent responses on this blog, I've been giving some thought to the issue of crime, immigration and refugees. Clearly, some people are anxious to avoid facing the issue of crime and immigrants and refugees. Not only is this common among young idealists such as those who volunteer as interns at refugee centers, but it is also common among some academics. And through doing so, the people who get hurt by it, in my opinion, are usually the immigrants and refugees who are crime victims of crimes committed by other refugees and immigrants, often of the same ethnic group.

For instance, I recently read an article entitled "Immigrant Women and Domestic Violence: Common Experiences in Different Countries," by Cecilia Menjivar and Olivia Salcido, which appeared in "Gender and Society," Vol. 16, No. 6 (Dec. 2002), pp. 898-920. Although it's an article well worth reading, and contains much information, it also spends a great of deal time discussing just how little is known about the scope of the problem.

As mentioned in previous posts, the article stresses the way immigrant men tend to use linguistic and cultural isolation, cutting off from resources and financial control, including seizing money from one's spouse or girlfriend, in order to control their spouse or girlfriend when they commit domestic violence. (Although the article does acknowledge same-sex and female-on-male domestic violence, like most such things, it focuses on male-on-female domestic violence. But it covers a lot. It's well worth reading.)

A great deal of crime, violence and domestic violence among refugees and immigrants is of the sort that involves members of the same ethnic group preying on each other. This has been the clear pattern with Chinese and Vietnamese immigrant crime groups. It is also the case among many crimes commited by Hmong gangs, For instance, one can read, this article,
"The Violence of Hmong Gangs and the Crime of Rape," by Richard Straka, which appears in the February 2003, Volume 72, No. 2, issue of the F.B.I. Law Enforcement Bulletin about halfway down the page.
Like most such things, it's unpleasant reading (which explains in part why when I went to graduate school I focused on the history of science in China instead of Chinese criminology, an area where I already had some background.)

In conclusion, Burma's a mess. Refugees from Burma are now pouring out into four different countries (at least), these being Thailand, Malaysia, India and China.

Refugees and immigrants are not always nice to each other. They are people. Like people everywhere, they sometimes commit crimes on one another. The exact rates of this are unknown and under-reported. However, the issue is much politicized. However, those who deny that these problems exist are facilitating the rape, extortion and victimization through domestic violence of the refugees and immigrants who become or are likely to become crime victims.

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