Washington, May 6: With the decision taken by the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to exercise discretionary authority under the Immigration and Nationality Act, more than 9,000 Burmese refugees will have the opportunity to resettle in the United States.
The decision will help resettle some 9,300 refugees from the Karen camp, a Burmese ethnic minority, who are now living in the Tham Hin refugee camp in Thailand, near the Burmese border.
According to State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, who briefed reporters here yesterday, representatives of the Department of Homeland Security have been at the refugee camp interviewing individuals to see whether they meet the criteria for possible resettlement in the US as refugees.
Explaining the situation Mr McCormack said, ''there is a refugee camp along the Thai-Burmese border called the Tham Hin refugee camp.
In this refugee camp, there are a number of ethnic minorities from Burma. Among these ethnic minorities there's a group of about 9,300 people from the Karen, Burmese ethnic minority.'' ''I'm not sure exactly, when it started, but over a past period of time representatives of the Department of Homeland Security have been going through this refugee camp and interviewing individuals to see, whether they meet the criteria for possible resettlement in the US as refugees,'' he said.
Mr McCormack said the Homeland Security representatives discovered that among the refugees were Karen, who might have provided some 'material support' to the Karen National Union, considered by the US to be a terrorist organisation.
Normally these individuals would not be eligible to resettle in the US without the secretary's waiver under the Immigration Nationality Act, he added.
The Act allows the secretary to waive resettlement restrictions on refugees, who otherwise meet all the criteria for refugee resettlement in the US.
''This waiver is not a guarantee that individuals might be resettled in the US, but merely something that allows the Department of Homeland Security to consider them as potentially eligible,'' Mr McCormack emphasised.
''[T]o my knowledge, there haven't been any individuals, who have actually been designated for resettlement here,'' he added.
Mr McCormack explained that ''anybody who might be a combatant or a member of the Karen National Union(KNU) would not be eligible for resettlement in the US, even under this waiver authority.'' However, secretary's decision allows Karen members resettlement in the US, if it can be determined that these refugees ''pose no danger to the safety and security of the US,'' a State Department fact sheet explained.
The Burmese refugees, according to State's fact sheet, ''have been identified as a population of special humanitarian concern to the US due to the privations they have experienced during and since their flight from Burma and due to the lack of any other durable solution.'' The KNU, founded in 1948, historically has functioned as the de facto civilian government of the Karen people in the areas it controlled, resisting the repression of and seeking autonomy from the Burmese regime, the State Department fact sheet said.
The Karen National Liberation Army is the armed wing of the KNU. In early 2004, Burma's military regime and the KNU entered into a temporary cease-fire, but the talks since then have stopped, failing to formalise an end to the conflict.