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How Elise Arya Chen turned childhood abuse into advocacy for Myanmar refugees

MALAYSIANSKINI | One of the most shameful aspects of the Covid-19 situation and its movement control order (MCO) variants was that it exposed that xenophobia among Malaysians is more widespread than one would have originally thought.

Instead of respecting that many migrants had contributed to our national development and often braved trafficking and other harsh conditions, some Malaysians were downright hostile to their plight.

Elise Arya Chen is not one of those. Formerly with migrant workers' rights NGO Tenaganita, she serves as coordinator for the Coalition of Burma Ethnics, Malaysia (Cobem), a grouping of eight refugee community-based organisations formed in 2007.

The eight members of Cobem are those from the Arakan, Chin (two groups), Kachin, Karen (two groups), Mon, and Shan ethnic groups. Cobem was formed to improve coordination and communication among the refugee community-based organs as well as with UNHCR and other NGOs working with them.

The dynamics have shifted following Myanmar’s military coup on Feb 17 which overthrew the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League of Democracy party. Young people are willing to risk their lives than watch their beloved country slide back into dictatorship after the military ruled for 59 years.

The military massacres led to renewed calls for an armed struggle, and it’s important to note that this is all in addition to the pre-existing ethnic tensions within the country – of which the Rohingya situation in Rakhine state is only one.

This reporter met Chen at a candlelight vigil outside the Myanmar embassy on March 10 in solidarity with the suffering of the people in the country...

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