Also known as Myanmar, Burma is one of Asia’s poorest countries. The nation’s political landscape was characterised by military rule after a coup in 1962. The leaders of the junta are accused of widespread human rights abuses.
In 2011 a civilian government returned after the first general election in 20 years. Nevertheless, the majority of the upper and lower house seats in parliament remain under military control. Burma is a source country for Australia’s resettlement program.
The Burman people constitute the largest population in the country. This group’s dominance has generated tensions with other ethnic populations. These include the Karen, Shan, Rakhine, Rohingya and Kachin people. These tensions have taken the form of separatist rebellions and military hostility, which has uprooted thousands of civilians.
The current government has reinforced old policies that affect Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine state. Rohingya Muslims are not been granted citizenship, lack basic rights, and are the subject of discriminatory policies and restrictive practices. UNHCR reports more than 75,000 people fled from their homes in the Rakhine State due to inter-communal violence in June 2012.
As at January 2013, there were 430,400 internally displaced persons and 808,075 stateless people residing in Burma. There were a further 415,343 refugees and 25,621 asylum seekers originating from Burma in exile worldwide.
Burma has ranked in the top two countries of origin for Australia’s offshore humanitarian program for the last seven years. Burma also figured in the top ten countries of origin for Australia’s onshore humanitarian program for eight of the last 11 years.
Until 2011, Australia’s relationship with Burma was limited due to the ruling military regime. Australia has increased its bilateral engagement with Burma as a result of its progress towards a more democratic state. President of Burma U Thein Sein visited Australia in March 2013 in the first visit by a Burmese head of state of since 1974.
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Myanmar Country Brief (2013)
Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Asylum Trends – Australia: 2011-12 Annual Publication (2012)
Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Australia's Humanitarian Program 2013-14 and beyond (2012)
Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Immigration Detention Statistics Summary 30 April 2013 (2013)
United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Myanmar country operation (2013)