Education and Arts
Giving Burmese refugees a university education
The situation of refugees, forced migrants and internally displaced people is one of the greatest humanitarian challenges facing humankind. Though many hope that significant political change will follow from the November 2015 elections, the 50 years of military rule in Burma (Myanmar) has produced the world's longest running civil war. While cease fires have been signed between the Burmese government and ethnic armies such as the Karen National Union, there is still no binding peace agreement and clashes continue to flare in ethnic areas of Myanmar.
Refugees fleeing the repressive military regime have been sectioned into nine camps scattered along the border with Thailand, camps which began as temporary accommodation. Some refugees have now been there for 30 years and, although there is significant pressure from the government in Thailand for them to return to Burma, it is unlikely that the refugees or forced migrants will return home soon. There is widespread fear and suspicion that the ceasefires will not hold. Most have lost homes and face return to a region without employment, health or education infrastructure, the legacy of years of war and neglect.
Some of our ACU Diploma students, now in their twenties, were born in these camps where primary and secondary education is provided by non-government organisations but is not recognised outside the camps.
Enter ACU: The Diploma in Liberal Studies program commenced in 2009 and is taught in partnership with York University in Canada through a combination of online and face-to-face lessons. It provides a unique opportunity for bright young refugees to have access to internationally recognised qualifications in higher education.
There are now over 150 graduates of the program, most of whom are now employed in non-government or community-based welfare organisations such as the Danish Refugee Council, the Karen Human Rights Group and the Mae Tao Clinic. Several have gained scholarships on the basis of their ACU qualification to continue their education in prestigious universities such as Assumption University in Bangkok and the Hong Kong Institute of Education.
For the students, the program has meant not just jobs or a pathway to degree courses but transformation. Through the critical thinking that academic work demands, they have been led to a belief in peaceful, political negotiation as the means to end the violence in their homeland.