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January 30, 2001, NEW YORK CITY - An ecumenical group composed of staff from the Church World Service Immigration and Refugee Program, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Chin Freedom Coalition traveled to Guam the week of January 15 to advocate for the release of 39 asylum seekers from Burma detained by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

The ecumenical group worked with the Governor of Guam, the INS and churches already supporting the asylum seekers from Burma to secure their release, which began Monday, January 29.

The 39 asylum seekers of Chin ethnicity fled their country to escape religious persecution and ethnic cleansing by the military regime of Myanmar (also known as Burma). For the past six months, they have been detained by the Department of Corrections since their arrival in Guam, a U.S. territory in the West Pacific.

"The compelling nature of their claims is what brought me here," explained Matt Wilch director for immigration and asylum concerns at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. "So far, the grant rate of this group is 95 percent. These are people fleeing torture, rape, and scorched earth tactics against their communities all because they insist on practicing their Christian faith and promoting democratic ideals. They deserve our protection and quick relief."

The ecumenical group toured the prison where the 39 asylum seekers were detained, made pastoral visits to their quarters, visited other asylum seekers living on the island and met with ethnic organizations working for the release of the detainees. "We feel that these refugees face unnecessary hurdles in the asylum process," remarked the Rev. Joan Maruskin, Washington Representative for Church World Service. "They live in terribly cramped conditions and wait for months to have their claims adjudicated by the INS. We want to bring these problems to light and help the refugees find solutions which will lead to their safety and ability to reestablish their lives."

The delegation began its efforts on Guam by meeting with the church groups who support the more than 800 asylum seekers from Burma already living on the island while they await the adjudication of their claims. Only two lawyers are available to process the claims of asylum seekers on Guam, so the wait is long. A coalition of Protestant and Catholic groups has provided the refugees with food, shelter, clothing and other assistance as they go through the asylum process.

Delegates met with the Governor of Guam, Mr. Carl T.C. Gutierrez, on January 18 to enlist his support for the refugees’ release. The Governor commended the group’s efforts and the efforts of Guam’s church groups to support the refugees. He then sent a letter to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service headquarters to ask for the group’s release to the community and quick adjudication of their asylum claims.

The ecumenical delegation included the Rev. Maruskin, Helen Morris and Adijatu Abiose, Esq. of Church World Service; Matt Wilch of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service; Zo T. Hmung of Chin Freedom Coalition; and Dr. Donoso Escobar of the Southern Baptist Convention; and the Rev. Euford from the Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention.


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