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Repats help revitalize Myanmar

Originally appeared in Aljarzzera America

June 8, 2015

Finding new footing

When Ohmar was a senior at Rangoon University, like many other students who participated in the bloody 1988 protests, she and her colleagues were pursued by Burma’s military intelligence unit. They fled to rebel-held territory on the border with Thailand, where they bonded with the ethic minority Mon people over shared anti-government views. She applied to the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok for political asylum, was resettled in the United States in 1990 and eventually became an American citizen. She studied in western Massachusetts and made her way to Washington, D.C., where she became well versed in the tactics of the exile activist, even testifying before a Senate subcommittee in 1995.

In 1998, Ohmar returned to the Thai side of the Thailand-Burma border and founded the Burma Partnership, a civil society group. Fourteen years later, as the new quasi-civilian government made overtures to blacklisted exile activists to return, she took the first of several trips back into Myanmar, where she worked on human rights issues such as reducing rising discrimination against minority Muslims, strengthening women’s rights and expanding the role of civil society. On her trips back, she has remained outspoken and skeptical of the government’s reform efforts. After traveling to Thailand earlier this year, she found that the Myanmar government would no longer issue her a visa to return, she says via Skype from Thailand.

Returnees not working with the government are generally told that they must refrain from political activities, but Khin Ohmar and others say they were transparent about their intentions. “We told them what we intended to do — not to reunite with our families or to do business but to contribute to democratic reform. I have nothing to hide,” she says.

At Parami hospital, Tony Ohn says he plans to spend more time in Myanmar and is helping set up a Stanford University Medical School–sponsored training program in Yangon. “You have to have a plan B and a plan C,” he explained to young physicians at the hospital as they reviewed how to intubate a patient.

Unlike many in Myanmar, he and other repats do have a plan B. But as Myanmar becomes more integrated with the rest of the world, the challenge won’t just be keeping people like him from returning to their lives abroad; it will be preventing the next generation from leaving. He sees that every day with the young doctors he trains.

“If you ask each and every one of them, if they have the chance, they will leave this country,” says Ohn. “At least for education, at least to go and make their mark.”

View the original post here: http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/6/8/Repats-return-to-revitalize-Myanmar.html

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