Australia’s Karen community gathered in Sydney on Saturday to mark the 66th year of armed struggle against successive military regimes in Burma.
“The celebration today is to empower the Karen community of Australia and to raise awareness about the human rights situation in Burma,” Saw Lwin Oo, the National President of Australia’s Karen Organisation said, standing beside an Australian flag and the flag of the Karen National Union.
“This is about maintaining our culture while embracing Australian values. We feel like we belong to two worlds.”
The Australian Karen Organisation estimates that there are as many as 30,000 Karen living in Australia, many of whom are former refugees fleeing a decades long war.
Saw Lwin Oo, who sought asylum in Australia 28 years ago, said that the military in Burma was denying the rights of minorities a share in the political process.
“There cannot be democracy or lasting peace in Burma if the rights of ethnic people continue to be ignored,” he said, “we, Australian Karen, have a duty to help our people wherever we are, through human rights advocacy and fundraising, because they are still suffering.”
The New York based Human Rights Watch warned that Burma’s human rights track record had gone sharply backwards last year.
In its 2015 World Report, HRW pointed to the widespread persecution of ethnic minorities the ongoing dominance of the military in politics, and little improvement in government transparency before upcoming presidential elections, to be held later this year.
Mahn Orlando, vice president of the AKO, said that said that celebrating significant days, like revolution day, was an important way for Karen around the world to show solidarity for those living in refugee camps and conflict zones.
“Like a stone splashing water, our people have become dispersed by war. But we stand united in our goal and in solidarity of Saw Ba U Gyi’s four guiding principles: ‘Surrender is out of the question, The recognition of the Karen State must be completed, We shall retain our arms and We shall decide our own political destiny.’”
“That’s is why myself and Saw Lwin Oo founded the Australian Karen Organisation, as a way to unite our people here in Australia. We have branches in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.”
Saw Lwin Oo and hundreds of others wrapped up the commemoration of Karen Resistance Day, by first singing Australia’s national anthem and then the Karen national anthem.
“The bonds of our people are strong, we are Australian but we are also Karen.”