Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has waived a provision of U.S. antiterror law to allow about 9,300 members of the Karen minority of Myanmar to be considered for political asylum in the United States, the State Department said Friday.
Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the waiver does not mean all will be granted asylum but allows them to apply.
In a statement on the waiver, the department said many of the Karens had fled to a refugee camp in Thailand because of attacks on their villages by Myanmar soldiers over the last decade.
The Karens had been declared ineligible for asylum because the Homeland Security Department determined they had “provided material support” to the Karen National Union, a 58-year-old resistance group opposed to central government control.
McCormack said Homeland Security screeners at the Tham Hin camp in Thailand had determined that some of the 9,300 Karens met eligibility requirements for entry into the United States except for the “material support” problem. They were declared ineligible under either the USA Patriot Act, a terrorist-hunting law passed shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, or the Clear ID Act passed last year, also largely an antiterrorist tool.
Under the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, Rice has discretionary authority to waive that requirement, which she did Wednesday, McCormack said.
“To my knowledge, there haven’t been any individuals who have actually been designated for resettlement here,” McCormack said.
The Karen National Union was founded in 1948, the year that Myanmar, then universally called Burma and still known by that name to many, became independent of the British Commonwealth.
Burma’s army took control of the country in 1962 and has held it since. The current junta took over in 1988 and renamed the country Myanmar. It and the Karen National Union negotiated a temporary cease-fire in 2004, but talks to formalize the truce have stalled.
McCormack said the waiver does not cover all the Karens in the camp. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency says more than 120,000 Myanmar nationals were in Thai camps in 2005, having fled fighting between Karen rebels and the Myanmar army.
“Anybody who might be a combatant or a member of the Karen National Union would not be eligible for resettlement in the United States, even under this waiver authority,” McCormack said.