I was a refugee (for a couple of days, in law not fact)

Refugee for a day (or two)

When Mobutu’s tyrannical kleptocracy in Zaire (now again Congo) began to fall apart, when people were desperate because they could not buy medicines or schooling for their children, the parachute regiment captured the airport and marched into Kinshasa. They and many of the civilian population  began to loot the city, while Mobutu’s Presidential Guard fought back. After a day or two the French and Belgians sent their own paratroops to oversee the evacuation of foreigners. The British (this was before we became NZ citizens) embassy arranged for Brits to go on a South African refugee plane that was able to land at the airport after it had been recaptured. Our passports were in a Zairean government office to get residence visas. So we traveled on temporary refugee papers issued by the embassy.

In just hours we were separated from colleagues and friends, not knowing nor able to find out what had happened to them. But fearing the worst. We shared some of the fear, shock and pain of leaving “home” that real refugees feel, but only some, because we had been people with two homes, and we still had resources of citizenship to protect us and open possibilities of a new life to us.1

img_3212Real refugees

We’ve also experienced life in a refugee camp, teaching courses on two occasions in a camp on the Thai-Burma border. During those months we saw second hand what it is like to be a real refugee. We heard stories of horrific experiences at the hands of the government forces. We met students who had never experienced a free life outside the wire boundaries of the camp. People with no papers (except the document that entitles them to a small food ration) and little hope.

Because these, real, refugees are members of an ethnic minority at war with the national government many of them do not seek UN refugee status, preferring to dream of the day when they can return home and rebuild. But for many after all that time the grinding dullness of life on the edge, whose purpose is merely to wait, prompts them to seek “resettlement” (see Resettlement and repatriation seem such gentle words). This means giving up the old hope (of return home to live with dignity in peace) and making tenuous ties to family and friends who make us who we are. Yet it offers a different hope: a new life. That’s what it means to be a refugee, to have lost all hope in your old life, and to seek a new one.

Land of opportunity

In the colonial period Europeans came to New Zealand seeking a new life, in a land of opportunity. They forged their new lives usually successfully, often at the expense (sometimes at the barrel of a gun, directly through land confiscations, dubious “deals”, or less directly) of the Maori who already inhabited the land. But by and large New Zealand now is a peaceful land, underpopulated full of wide open spaces. We have low unemployment and because of that history opportunities for trade and industry that are surprising in a place so far from anywhere. We even have a record of race relations that is less bad than many similar places.

How come we do not welcome more refugees? Refugees are people with “get up and go” both literally and metaphorically. They have drive and initiative. They are good at looking after themselves. Usually they are unusually socially responsible. With all that space and all those opportunities, why do we not welcome more new New Zealanders?

  1. We even had the hope of returning soon. For we assumed that Mobutu would leave or be killed and the coup would install a new (and therefore better) government. In fact two decades of civil wars have made Congo a byword. []

Global Perspectives on reading the Bible – Call for contributors

Photo from Soil-net

I have read the Bible professionally, and encouraged and taught others to read it, in three continents. The situations differed, including an African and a Western University, a Baptist theological college and a Bible School in a refugee camp. I have also supervised some exciting theses that develop interesting perspectives on understanding the Bible. So I am delighted to be participating in a project Global Perspectives on the Old Testament and Global Perspectives on the New Testament, I’ll be writing on Gender-bending as a male reader of Esther and on Jeremiah, possibly taking account of my current context (fencing a piggery and building a pig house ;)

Mark is looking for more contributors, so please read the Call for Contributions below, and think about writing something, or at least repost it on your blog and so share in an interesting project :)

Mark Roncace is seeking contributors for two volumes, Global Perspectives on the Old Testament and Global Perspectives on the New Testament. Pearson Prentice Hall is publishing Global Perspectives on the Bible this year. Next, separate OT and NT volumes, also to be published by Prentice Hall, will be produced. Both books will feature much of the same material as the original Bible volume, but with added essays.

The books—designed as entry level college textbooks—gather four different essays around one biblical text. The essays are brief (about 1,000 words and need not be “scholarly”) and articulate insights from a particular geographical, social, cultural, economic, religious, or ideological context/location. Here is the list of texts/books for which he need essays.

  • Genesis 6-9
  • Numbers 22-24
  • Leviticus
  • Judges
  • 1-2 Kings
  • Jeremiah
  • Ezekiel 1-25
  • Esther
  • Ecclesiastes
  • Daniel
  • Crucifixion narratives
  • Acts (other than chapter 2)
  • Corinthians
  • Galatians
  • 1-2 Thessalonians
  • James
  • Pastorals (1-2 Timothy, Titus)
  • 1-3 John
  • 1-2 Peter

Please let Mark know if you are interested (mroncace@wingate.edu) in writing an essay on one (or two) of these texts and he will forward specific guidelines and a sample. In addition to scholars, Mark is particularly interested in gathering perspectives from non-professional readers. He is trying to run on a tight schedule: final OT essays are due April 1 and final NT essays are due June 1 (but remember they are only about 1,000 words).

Letter from Burma

Photo of U Win Tin from The Irawaddy

The International Herald Tribune features an opinion piece by one of the most significant pro-democracy leaders in Burma (aka Myanmar). In a message smuggled out of the country U Win Tin (a colleague of Aung San Suu Kyi) first explains for the incurably optimistic how the “election” there next month is merely window dressing to ensure that the military dictatorship can claim to be a legitimate government. Then closes responding to to the incurable optimist’s next question:

One might ask what is the solution, if it is not the election. It is dialogue, which we have been calling for for many years. Meaningful political dialogue between the military, the National League for Democracy led by Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, and ethnic representatives is the only way to solve problems in Burma peacefully.

The military has no desire to talk. But if the international community seriously exercises strong and effective pressure on the regime, the combination of pressure from outside and peaceful resistance inside the country will force the regime to come to the dialogue table.

I wish that our friends in Europe would abandon their dream of expecting something impossible from the election, and start taking serious action against the regime with the aim of starting a dialogue. They should begin by creating a U.N. commission of inquiry to investigate human rights violations in Burma.

Win Tin

Win Tin was one of the founders of the NLD (with Suu Kyi) and is still a member of its central committee. He was a political prisoner for about two decades. His brave words should be heard! Since the “election” is approaching fast please link to the opinion piece, and perhaps encourage others to write to their representatives urging a UN Commission of Inquiry.

Displaced childhoods

Partners got to present their report Displaced childhoods to the select committee of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Defence of the NZ Parliament this morning. The committee gave 45 mins to this not the 15 they’d scheduled, which has to be good news :)

My MP is Phil Goff, who was foreign minister under the last government and now leads the opposition, so I wrote to his constituency agent (email text below) why don’t you write to your PM? (The addresses are easy to get just Google them or try name.surname@parliament.govt.nz)


I am writing to you because I live in the Mt Roskil constituency (though in view of Phil Goff’s experience as foreign minister under the last government it is even more appropriate).

I was delighted to hear that today the select committee of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Defence took considerable time to follow up the report “Displaced Childhoods” concerning human rights abuses suffered by the children of Burma (also known as Myanmar).

I would appreciate hearing what action may be taken by New Zealand as a result, I am not sure whether Phil Goff is on that group, but assume that with his interest in foreign affairs he will keep in touch with the issue.

If you/he think that this is not a matter for my constituency MP, then who should I write to, having visited refugees and other people from Burma along the Thai Burma border twice in recent years, and heard first hand the sort of story highlighted in the report you can imagine I feel passionately about this!

Yours sincerely,


Happy birthday Daw Aung San Suu Kyi!

Aung San Suu Kyi

Today, or tomorrow for some readers ;) Aung San Suu Kyi will be spending her 65th birthday in detention.

She’s been detained for a total of 14 years and 238 days. Basically on and off since her massive election landslide. The United Nations has always declared that her detention breaks international law. A catalogue of International bodies such as: The UN General Assembly, UN Security Council, UN Human Rights Council, European Union, as well as individual countries around the globe have all said the UN should work to facilitate negotiations between the dictatorship, the National League for Democracy (Aung San Suu Kyi’s party)  and the ethnic opposition groups.

Yet UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has not been taking active steps to make this happen.

So as a birthday present for “the lady” please send a simple message to Ban Ki-moon to take action on Burma!

Take action here it will only take you a few moments, if enough people respond something may be done – there are bogus elections planned THIS year from which the last elected leader will be banned.

Please also either repost this or write your own birthday message :)

Letter to my MPs office: Re. Burma

I’m writing because I noticed that on 2nd Parliament both received the report Displaced Childhoods, and voted on a motion concerning the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi. I wondered what other steps are being taken in this year when the ruling military junta in Burma plan to hold bogus elections to bolster their grip on power so that they can continue to rape and murder their ethnic minority citizens. (I realise this is not proper parliamentary language, but I’m not a politician, just a constituent horrified by what is happening and how little NZ seems to be involved in trying to change things.) I am also interested to know what part our MP is playing?

Why don’t you write to yours? Their emails are easy to find on Google. 3 mins to do something rather than nothing…

Thugs seek "election"

Fleeing the Tatmadaw

Fleeing the Tatmadaw

I do not usually post Burma stuff on this blog, but with the “elections” planned for later this year I think it is really important that as many people as possible know something of what is going on in Burma/Myanmar. Many people know about Aung San Su Kyi, the arrested Nobel Prize Winner who should have been the head of state, but few know of the systematic attempts at “ethnic cleansing” of many of the tribal minority groups. This usually involves the army, Tatmadaw, burning villages and crops, so chasing the villagers into hiding in the jungle till at last they join the thousands in the refugee camps or living as illegals in neighbouring countries.  They are also gradually driving back, or bribing (often with the promise of drug money), the ethnic resistance movements. Once an area is “safe” for the army they build a road (to allow easier access) and can begin to control the resource rich hill country.

But this time these thugs have excelled themselves. A week ago, on 22nd March, a bunch of them entered Kaw Hta village and as well as burning slaughtered women and children. The report is here but be warned it contains graphic photos. This information really needs to be known so that when the “elections” are held later this year they cannot gain any shred of respectability allowing the brutal military government to hide its shame. Please post a link to the report ideally mentioning also the elections in Myanmar/Burma.