Since Cyclone Nargis ravaged Burma earlier this month, the military junta that rules the nation has been roundly condemned for its handling of the emergency, but Australian newspapers took an unusual tack; several publications revealed that children of Burmese military leaders are residing in Australia as students.
Some newspapers went so far as to publish the names of some of these students.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, privacy laws prevent Australian universities from commenting to the press about individual students, but the Herald, along with the Age and other publications, found other sources who identified the Burmese students.
The number is apparently small; the Australian Broadcasting Corporation cites an activist who says there are about eight such students in the country, compared to about 10,000 ordinary Burmese also in residence there.
The ABC notes that there are strict limits on money transfers into Australia from members of the Burmese junta.
The Age quoted Alison Vicary, an editor at the publication Burma Economic Watch, as saying: “Those now living and being educated in Australia have obtained wealth while materially impoverishing and severely circumscribing the freedom of the majority of their fellow citizens.”
The ABC quoted Dr. Kyaw Myint Malia of the Burmese Friendship Association as saying that Burmese expatriates won’t name the students for fear that the junta will retaliate against relatives back in Burma.
“A lot of people are very angry at the situation in Burma but they won’t come out,” Malia said. “They won’t speak to the radio, they won’t come in front of the TV because of the fear of repercussions and their family left behind.”
Former Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer told the Age that he had not thought of deporting the children of the Burma leadership, but said, “It would certainly be a way of targeting the regime.”
As minister, Downer did deport children of the controversial regime in Zimbabwe who were studying in Australia.
“Burma rulers’ children in Australia”
The Age, May 19, 2008
“Burmese community ‘too scared’ to name junta students”
ABConline (Australia), May 19, 2008
“Children of Burma junta studying here”
Sydney Morning Herald, May 19, 2008
“Junta’s children free to study”
The Age, May 20, 2008