Cablegate: New Burma Sanctions Equal New Burma Refugees?

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Summary: The new U.S. sanctions on Burma will have a
negative impact on the economy as a whole, and the garment
sector in particular. NGOs believe that the unemployment
caused by the sharp decline of the garment industry will lead
to an increase of trafficking in persons and attempted
emigration. However, the already massive flood of unemployed
young women and men seeking economic alternatives will likely
largely swallow this uptick. Nonetheless, the U.S.
government should act quickly to ensure the activities of
NGOs providing outreach to potential and actual trafficking
victims are not diminished by the new sanctions. End summary.

Sanctions Put a Bullet in Garment Sector

2. (SBU) The new Burma sanctions, which among other
punishments ban imports of Burmese products into the United
States, are already beginning to have a visible impact on a
local garment sector already weakened by declining demand and
poor global competitiveness. As reported in Refs A and F,
the predominately private sector-controlled Burmese garment
industry relies almost exclusively on the U.S. market, and
the garment manufacturers here have asserted that it will be
very difficult to replace U.S. customers with European Union
or Japanese buyers.

3. (SBU) With the garment sector collapse, we estimate that a
large percentage of the sector's estimated 100,000 jobs,
mostly in the Rangoon area, will be at risk. In Burma's
dismal economy, these workers, mostly young women, some of
whom are the primary wage earner for their families, will
have very few positive economic prospects. Certainly some
will be absorbed by the agricultural and informal economic
sector (selling tea or forest products in the marketplace).
Others will migrate to the vigorous karaoke and nightclub
sector of Rangoon to take jobs as hostesses and/or
prostitutes. A third group, of indeterminate size, may head
for the borders to seek opportunities in Thailand or China.

NGOs Uncertain Over Workers' Future

4. (SBU) According to international NGOs in Rangoon that work
to prevent trafficking in persons, the new sanctions will
likely cause an uptick in the number of women seeking to find
entertainment or sex industry jobs inside Burma, and sex and
manufacturing industry jobs over the border in Thailand and
China. The NGO representatives admitted, though, that the
ranks of young, unemployed job seekers -- and cases of human
trafficking as a result -- will swell only slightly by the
closure of the garment factories. Job brokers, both
legitimate and sinister, operating in Burma already benefit
from a huge supply of potential laborers due to the chronic
economic problems in Burma, and the relatively strong
currencies and economies of Thailand and China. The NGOs
report that already brokers have increased their fees from
50,000 kyat (about $50) to 100,000 kyat. The average garment
factory employee earns about 12,000-20,000 kyat/month

5. (SBU) NGOs are concerned about the paucity of legitimate
employment opportunities inside Burma for the former textile
workers and other young women. One NGO told us as part of
its outreach program it previously assisted young women at
risk to get jobs at garment factories. This will no longer
be an option. NGOs do not foresee the government taking any
steps to create new jobs for young women. In fact the
government's anti-trafficking watchdog, led by SPDC Secretary
One's wife, has announced a campaign to shut down all karaoke
shops and massage parlors (most of which do not offer sex); a
step that would cut off a major alternative to outright
prostitution for jobless girls and women.

GOB Actions Indifferent

6. (SBU) Thus far, the government has done nothing to prepare
for, or soften, the impact of the factory closures. Instead,
senior leaders and their journalistic mouthpieces have been
making political hay of the "weapon of mass destruction"
launched by the United States to cause "human rights abuses"
and force Burmese girls into "sexual slavery." Garment
manufacturers tell us the government has ordered the factory
owners to pay all employees a severance package equal to
3-months salary. However, it's yet unclear whether the
businessmen, already suffering from a 6-month banking crisis
and a generally poor business situation, will be able to make
these payments.

7. (SBU) The government also seems prepared to redouble
efforts to crack down on migration, particularly by women,
along the most traveled routes to the Thai and Chinese
borders. However, NGOs fear, this type of interdiction will
only force would-be economic migrants to seek alternative,
more dangerous escape routes.

8. (SBU) It is always possible that the regime will take
administrative measures to sop up some of the new
unemployment, such as expanding public works projects or
forcing private investors to hire a certain number of new
employees. However, we've heard only hints and rumors of
this, and think it possible only if the unemployment begins
to cause some political ferment in the poorer parts of

Comment: Assistance Needed

9. (SBU) While the Burmese government bears ultimate
responsibility for softening the economic blow to garment
sector workers, neighboring states and the U.S. government
should also look at ways of assisting those NGOs who are
aiding trafficked women and those at risk of being
trafficked. There may be opportunities to contribute
additional U.S. aid to credible INGOs working independently
of the GOB in the area of trafficking. However, the
immediate need is for a liberal general license, waiving
restrictions imposed by the latest sanctions, for those NGOs
that remit dollars into Burma. Punctuating this need, on
August 8 twenty-six health, education, and environment NGOs
met with the DCM to complain that without a resolution of the
remittance problems, they would have to shut down their
operations within 2-3 weeks. Indeed, many NGOs reported that
they were already cutting back their outreach because of the
inability to replenish funds.

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