Aung San Suu Kyi set for release

Reports from Burma claim that the pro-democracy leader could be freed as early as Sunday.

After spending 15 of the past 21 years under house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi is set to be released, according to the BBC.

Military authorities have reportedly signed an order authorising the release of the Burmese pro-democracy leader, when the term of her house arrest expires this Sunday.

Aung San Suu Kyi's continuing incarceration has become a cause célèbre in the west. Just last week, Gordon Brown took to Twitter to call for her release.

In Burma, she is an enduring symbol of resistance against the military regime that have controlled the state since 1990, despite the efforts of the Burmese regime to overshadow her. As Ambika Reddy pointed out in last week's New Statesman:

Than Shwe [the leader of Burma's military junta] has devoted himself to constructing an edifice that would loom over Aung San Suu Kyi, rooting the army's claim to power in the nation's traditional iconography. That this is a hopelessly atavistic endeavour goes without saying. It threatens to leave Burma becalmed in a settlement in which the people's demands for the most miserable basics of life continue to be ignored, and in which border wars drag on.

Peter Popham explained in the New Statesman's profile of Aung San Suu Kyi earlier this summer why the military junta fears a woman now of pensionable age:

Three times before - in 1990, 1995 and 2002 - [the junta] made the mistake of underestimating her appeal. The first time, the NLD humiliated the regime's proxy, the National Unity Party, by winning 80 per cent of the seats in parliament. The second time, when she was released from her first spell of house arrest, thousands risked jail every week to squat outside the gates of her home and listen to her speak. The third time, when, after months of delay, she was at last allowed to travel outside Rangoon, peasants walked through the jungle for days for a chance to see her.

Whether or not Aung San Suu Kyi will actually be released remains to be seen. A spokesman for the Burma Campaign UK attempted to dampen speculation.

"There are rumours that the police are outside her house and could be delivering documents connected to her freedom. However, we really don't know. If there are conditions attached to her release she might not agree to it."

The AFP, however, reported sources who claimed: "The authorities will release her. It is certain".

Until she if free, nothing can be guaranteed, particularly in Burma's current state, undergoing a major political transformation."The end of the reigns of Burmese rulers are always moments of uncertainty," explains Ambika Reddy. "The consequences are utterly unpredictable."

Paul McMillan
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"We're an easy target": how a Tory manifesto pledge will tear families apart

Under current rules, bringing your foreign spouse to the UK is a luxury reserved for those earning £18,600 a year or more. The Tories want to make it even more exclusive. 

Carolyn Matthew met her partner, George, in South Africa sixteen years ago. She settled down with him, had kids, and lived like a normal family until last year, when they made the fateful decision to move to her hometown in Scotland. Matthew, 55, had elderly parents, and after 30 years away from home she wanted to be close to them. 

But Carolyn nor George - despite consulting a South African immigration lawyer – did not anticipate one huge stumbling block. That is the rule, introduced in 2012, that a British citizen must earn £18,600 a year before a foreign spouse may join them in the UK. 

“It is very dispiriting,” Carolyn said to me on the telephone from Bo’ness, a small town on the Firth of Forth, near Falkirk. “In two weeks, George has got to go back to South Africa.” Carolyn, who worked in corporate complaints, has struggled to find the same kind of work in her hometown. Jobs at the biggest local employer tend to be minimum wage. George, on the other hand, is an engineer – yet cannot work because of his holiday visa. 

To its critics, the minimum income threshold seems nonsensical. It splits up families – including children from parents – and discriminates against those likely to earn lower wages, such as women, ethnic minorities and anyone living outside London and the South East. The Migration Observatory has calculated that roughly half Britain’s working population would not meet the requirement. 

Yet the Conservative party not only wishes to maintain the policy, but hike the threshold. The manifesto stated:  “We will increase the earnings thresholds for people wishing to sponsor migrants for family visas.” 

Initially, the threshold was justified as a means of preventing foreign spouses from relying on the state. But tellingly, the Tory manifesto pledge comes under the heading of “Controlling Immigration”. 

Carolyn points out that because George cannot work while he is visiting her, she must support the two of them for months at a time without turning to state aid. “I don’t claim benefits,” she told me. “That is the last thing I want to do.” If both of them could work “life would be easy”. She believes that if the minimum income threshold is raised any further "it is going to make it a nightmare for everyone".

Stuart McDonald, the SNP MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, co-sponsored a Westminster Hall debate on the subject earlier this year. While the Tory manifesto pledge is vague, McDonald warns that one option is the highest income threshold suggested in 2012 - £25,700, or more than the median yearly wage in the East Midlands. 

He described the current scheme as “just about the most draconian family visa rules in the world”, and believes a hike could affect more than half of British citizens. 

"Theresa May is forcing people to choose between their families and their homes in the UK - a choice which most people will think utterly unfair and unacceptable,” he said.  

For those a pay rise away from the current threshold, a hike will be demoralising. For Paul McMillan, 25, it is a sign that it’s time to emigrate.

McMillan, a graduate, met his American girlfriend Megan while travelling in 2012 (the couple are pictured above). He could find a job that will allow him to meet the minimum income threshold – if he were not now studying for a medical degree.  Like Matthew, McMillan’s partner has no intention of claiming benefits – in fact, he expects her visa would specifically ban her from doing so. 

Fed up with the hostile attitude to immigrants, and confident of his options elsewhere, McMillan is already planning a career abroad. “I am going to take off in four years,” he told me. 

As for why the Tories want to raise the minimum income threshold, he thinks it’s obvious – to force down immigration numbers. “None of this is about the amount of money we need to earn,” he said. “We’re an easy target for the government.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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