By Sophie Bennett and Alson Cai

Student groups are calling on the Australian Government and university administrations to offer protection to Myanmar students who have faced intimidation by the military dictatorship. 

Last month Australian based Myanmar students were sent allegedly threatening letters by the Myanmar embassy, demanding they pledge loyalty to the military junta which overthrew Myanmar’s fledgling democratic government in February this year. 

The letter, which appeared to have been sent to students sponsored by the Myanmar Government, told them to declare they had “not participated in the civil disobedience movement… and not incited anyone to participate”.

The translation of the letter by ABC News also revealed students were asked to promise to “remain loyal and subservient” to Myanmar’s government and confirm they hadn’t posted anything on social media “against the Union of Myanmar”. 

The letter also warned students would be “subject to punishment under existing laws and rules” if they gave false information or if they fail to reply by the deadline of July 7.

Letter sent to Myanmar students

Letter sent to Myanmar students. Source: Myanmar Students’ Association Australia

The UTS Students’ Association (UTSSA) are calling on the Morrison government to offer students and academics asylum or full working visa rights to all Myanmar nationals in Australia. 

UTSSA Education Officer Ellie Woodward said the student union stands with the Myanmar civil disobedience movement and the university must do the same by waiving fees for those threatened.

“The Government and university must support them completely and ensure their safety and their ability to stay in Australia.

“It is the Government’s responsibility to offer asylum to everyone who is not safe in their own country and especially for international students who made their home here at Australian universities,” Ellie Woodward said.

The military junta has been accused of disappearances, torture, media suppression and violent repression. It has also been accused of waging a genocidal offensive against the oppressed Rohingya population and other minorities within Myanmar.

More than 900 people have been killed in the suppression of protests and 5,269 people were still under detention as of yesterday.

UTS based activist Holly Hayne said that the Morrison government should be doing more to protect students from Myanmar.

“It is outrageous that the Australian government remains silent when international students in this country have been threatened for speaking out against a military coup, they need to know that their place in Australia and at university is secure.”

Hayne also accused the government of maintaining ties with the Myanmar military, “funding and training while that military was committing genocide against the Rohingya minority”, and now “giving a green light to the junta to intimidate students”.

The support from a safer, kinder government than the one back at home, is the least of what they can hope for.

A Myanmar student speaking to UTSSA anonymously said that students from Myanmar fear for their safety and the safety of their families.

“Six months since the coup, there remains an overwhelming wave of helplessness felt by the people of Myanmar.

“For the international Burmese students in Australia, the support from a safer, kinder government than the one back at home, is the least of what they can hope for,” the student said.

Another Myanmar student studying at UTS said that not only is the “military coup [bad]” but also “Covid is worsening in my country”.

“I’m worried about all of my friends and family back in my country and now Covid has worsened [with] no to little help from the military. 

“I feel really anxious for all the people back in my country and feel stress thinking about my country’s situation. And I really hope the Australian government will help my country in any way and international students who are away from home will be safe,” the student said.

Myanmar Students’ Association Australia (MSAA) is a coalition of Myanmar student societies across 16 universities in Australia. According to one of its representatives, Sean Wang, they have conducted protests across the States in Australia to lobby the Government to help Burmese people and sanction the Myanmar military.

[We’ve been] trying to urge the Australian Government not to send the taxpayers money to the military government, but to local organisations.

Australia suspended its Defence Cooperation Program with Myanmar in March in response to the mounting violence. The Morrison Government also announced on 5 May that Myanmar nationals in Australia “may apply to extend their stay until it is safe to return home”. 

Yet, no further sanctions have been imposed by the Government against the Myanmar military.

“There has been a report of a $5 million package going to support the Burmese government, but we were stopping them…[We’ve been] trying to urge the Australian Government not to send the taxpayers money to the military government, but to local organisations, which can really benefit and contribute to the people,” Mr Wang said.

MSAA has held free sessions and workshops to help Myanmar students in Australia with their visas, study and careers.

“It has been a lonely and hard time for us, so it’d be good if we can come together and study together,” Mr Wang added.

According to a survey conducted by MSAA, some Myanmar students have received support from Australian universities with assignment and tuition payment extensions. 

However, the Association is urging the Government and universities to offer more support in the daily and psychological aspects “whether [to give] us the student grant, or to support our daily living expenses here, like our rent and food, a reduction in tuition fees, and also offer mental health support programs for all the students because it has been really hard on our mental health since this coup started, not just the students back home, but also [the students] here [in Australia]”.

“There are people stuck back home… in a really hard position to carry forward with their education… so I really want universities [to] collaborate [with the] Government for the pilot plan where they can bring the students back to Australia [to continue their degrees],” Mr Wang said.

Central News contacted the Myanmar Embassy for comment but has received no response.

Main Image by Saw Wunna on UnSplash


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