Part 2: Persecution in Burma, A Religious Refugee

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It is a certainty that any news dealing with a child makes for big news. Stories involving children touch a chord in all of us. After all, children as so precious, so vulnerable.

When presented with the facts of Nunu Sung’s case, it is only natural that anger (the first response) sets in. With a critical eye society plays the role of adjudicator (the second response). We make snap assessments based on a 30-second clip on the news and think we sufficiently understand the scope of the situation. We then pass judgment (the third response): “What a horrible person that woman is!” “Somebody ought to lock her up and throw away the key!” “She has no right to be a parent!”

We begin the process of dehumanizing the accused with stereotypes by attacking their ethnicity, or gender, or economic standing, or legal status. Doing so makes it easy for “us” to neatly categorize people like Nunu as part of “them.” With sledgehammer and nail, we then drive the label deep onto their forehead: “unfit” “loser” etc.

While we, the collective, are quick to cast judgment on women such as Nunu Sung, who make a mistake, we often forget to place ourselves in their shoes. What I can tell you, dear reader, is that Nunu is not a horrible person; she has served an agreed upon sentence and deserves a second chance; and she has been fighting for two years to be a parent to her son.

To help you gain some understanding of how Nunu could make such a difficult decision, you must first know her background. Nunu’s life has been a very complex and difficult one to bear.

Persecution in Burma (Myanmar)

Nunu, by birth is a citizen of Burma (Myanmar). She comes from the Hakha Chin ethnic group, who are primarily Christian in nature. For those of you unfamiliar with the state of political affairs in Burma, the country has been under military dictatorship for decades.

What if I shared with you that Nunu’s people group, the Hakha Chin, have endured horrible acts of violence, murder, abuse and political pressure by the military powers for decades. As a result, many Hakha Chin have fled their homeland for safer lands.

In America, we pride ourselves on our Christian roots and tolerance for religious freedom. Imagine what it must be like to watch authorities, sanctioned by the government, destroy property, ruin livelihoods, burn homes, and murder neighbors and community members simply because they are Christian. Imagine having to flee your home, your town, your family, your country because soldiers arrested you for your beliefs. This was Nunu’s experience.

From the time of her late teens, Nunu owned a small family store located along a main thoroughfare. Soldiers came to her store one day demanding alcohol. Because of her religious convictions, Nunu did not sell alcohol, which angered the soldiers. They slapped her, man-handled her, and arrested her for not having alcohol available to them. She was detained for a period of time and released. Soldiers knew the location of her store which meant they could come back for her, as they had done to so many Chin before.

Fearing for her life, alone, frightened, and just barely into her twenties, Nunu Sung made the difficult decision to flee her homeland.

Xenophobia in Malaysia

What if I shared with you, dear reader, in order to save her life Nunu stowed away on a small boat to Malaysia—following the path of thousands of Burmese before her. She was now a religious refugee. What if I told you that while in Malaysia, Burmese refugees experience violence, abuse and extortion by the police. Because many Burmese refugees enter the country illegally, they lack necessary paperwork. (Although, very few refugees have the luxury of acquiring the necessary paperwork when preservation of life is of the utmost priority.) As a consequence, this puts them at risk of abuse and mistreatment from the police, which repeats a vicious psychological  cycle. Imagine fleeing from the dangers of one’s home country only to encounter the same level of caution for life in another.

In speaking with Burmese refugees in America, I have listened to horrific stories of abuse at the hands of Malaysian police—stories of how Burmese are hunted and chased (literally) through the streets and hillsides of Malaysia, of hiding in jungles for days to avoid capture and abuse, of having to pay incredible bribes to avoid arrest, harm or deportation.

Can you imagine what it is like to watch fellow Burmese men, women and children routinely chased and hunted by police, only to be arrested, beaten, or killed? In America, we place our trust in the security provided by first responders, including the police. We teach our children that police are safe and people to turn to if lost or in need of help. We encourage those in trouble to turn to the police for protection and assistance. Imagine what it must be like to live in a country where you are unable to turn to the police in times of distress or need because of xenophobia.

While in Malaysia Nunu worked in both the restaurant and construction fields. But like so many Burmese refugees, she was cautious of interactions with the police, knowing the police could not be trusted. Desiring a better, safer and more stable life, Nunu Sung applied for and received refugee status to the one country she knew would provide her the safety and freedom she craved: America. In her early twenties, alone and hopeful, Nunu journeyed to America.

A Glimpse

What I hope you gather from this brief glimpse into Nunu’s life, dear reader, is how fear and distrust formed the foundation of her experiences regarding the police and authorities. I hope you also realize, dear reader, the psychological stress and trepidation refugees endure. In my next article I will attempt to address the question on everyone’s mind: why?

HOW YOU CAN HELP!

There are a few, simple ways you can get involved in support of Nunu Sung’s fight to be reunited with her son. Please follow this link: A Call To Action

(1) Spread the Word!

Use your preferred source of social media to spread this story.

(2) Contact the Newspapers

Contact Chicago reporters and ask them to cover this story.

Reporter, Chicago Tribune, Christy Gutowski:   cmgutowski@tribune.com

Reporter, Daily Herald, Mary Wilson: mwilson@dailyherald.com

Copy the letter provided below and email it to the following newspapers:

Letter to the Editor, Chicago Tribune (Click here.)

Letter to the Editor, Daily Herald (Click here.)

Letter to the Editor, Chicago Sun Times (Click here.)

To The Editor,

In following recent articles related to the custody case of Nunu Sung, I find it concerning that presiding Judge, C. Stanley Austin, has made statements to the effect that “the goal of the proceedings should no longer be to reunite the biological mother with her child.” How is Ms. Sung to receive a fair, honest and objective ruling when Judge Austin has clearly stated his bias regarding Ms. Sung?

I am also outraged to learn that DuPage County State’s Attorney, Bob Berlin, has agreed to prosecute a petition to deny Nunu Sung of her parental rights. I am aware that this injunction violates the terms of the Plea Agreement established in October of 2010—a Plea Agreement agreed upon by all parties involved in this case. I am concerned of the consequence such action will have on the integrity of future Plea Bargains if Mr. Berlin is allowed to violate the terms of Nunu Sung’s Plea Agreement. Moreover, I find it unfair to renege on a legal contract when the defendant has held her end of the bargain. I demand honest and ethical behavior from the State’s Attorney. Mr. Berlin, I implore you to honor the terms of the Plea Agreement! Nunu Sung deserves to be reunited with her son.

Respectfully Submitted,

(Your Name, City)

(3)  Place Pressure on DuPage County State’s Attorney, Bob Berlin

Contact Bob Berlin directly and express your outrage over his involvement in supporting the violation of the terms of the Plea Agreement set forth for Nunu Sung. (Use the letter provided above or jot a few sentences of your own.) Demand that he drop the injunction to terminate Nunu Sung’s parental rights and honor the terms of the original Plea Agreement set in October of 2010 to allow Nunu Sung parental rights upon her release from prison.

Voice your concern loud and communicate often!

WRITE: Bob Berlin, DuPage County’s State’s Attorney, c/o Judicial Office Facility – Annex, 503 N. County Farm Road, Wheaton, IL 60187

EMAIL: Email: sao@dupageco.org (in the Subject Line:  Attn: Bob Berlin – Honor Plea Agreement for NuNu Sung)

CALL: 630.407.8000

FAX: 630.407.8151

(4) Help Fund Nunu Sung’s Legal Fees

Nunu Sung has incurred many legal fees in her efforts to fight for her parental rights. Please consider making a contribution to help cover the costs associated with this case.

Send donations of any amount to:

The United Christian Chin Church, 602 E. Geneva Road, Wheaton, IL 60187. Checks payable to: UCCC, with “Nunu Sung Legal Defense Fund” in the Memo line.

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5 comments

  1. Interesting to hear about her background and how it would impact her reaction to the police. However, you know the situation, and did the police have a forced entry, or something that would cause fear at that moment?

    Or should the focus be on her state of mind (having a baby on her own is extremely traumatic) Also her state of aloneness with a language barrier not permitting her to seek help. Also perhaps not knowing where to seek help, or care for her infant. Perhaps all that to be addressed a later post.

    Just some thoughts

    1. Karin,

      Thanks for a thoughtful consideration of Nunu’s background and experience. I am certainly hoping to shed some light on some of the factors at play in her life at the time. Some of your questions will be discussed in future posts. Please continue to follow.

      ~Susan

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