Nearly half of the 3 million people who have fled Myanmar because of conflict have done so since the coup

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Nearly 3 million people have fled Myanmar due to armed conflict, nearly half of whom have left the country after last year’s military coup, an independent research group said Friday.

The Myanmar Institute for Strategic and Policy Studies (ISP-Myanmar) said 2,930,201 internally displaced persons (IDPs), or just over 5% of Myanmar’s population of 54.4 million, have fled the violence in the country. It said 1,413,811 of them, or 48%, fled Myanmar during the conflict following the February 1, 2021 putsch.

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According to ISP-Myanmar, the number of people in Myanmar classified as displaced persons due to the civil war has more than doubled to 1,019,190 after the coup from 497,200 prior to the takeover.

The research group said the list was compiled based on data obtained by organizations helping refugees in conflict zones, international aid groups, ethnic armed groups and reporting by independent media. It said the data had been checked and confirmed by its researchers.

ISP-Myanmar senior research officer Kyaw Htet Aung told RFA Burmese that all fighters in Myanmar must take measures to reduce the suffering of civilians.

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“Displaced persons currently do not have full access to humanitarian aid and their numbers are rising month by month,” he said.

“How are we going to solve the problem? All adversaries should pay more attention to military codes of conduct to minimize harm to civilians. If they can do that, I think the suffering of civilians would be significantly reduced. In addition, displaced persons should have better access to international aid.”

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According to ISP-Myanmar, 533,833 people displaced by the violence since the coup are from the Sagaing region, where the military has faced some of the fiercest resistance to his rule over the past 19 months.

Aid workers told RFA that fighting between the military and armed opposition is intensifying and spreading rapidly across Myanmar, resulting in a significant increase in the number of displaced persons and civilian casualties.

Displaced persons from Kyaung Pyar, Kyaukkyi Municipality, Bago Region, flee their village after military raids, July 4, 2022. Credit: civilian journalist

No access to international aid

A villager who recently fled fighting in Sagaing’s Kanbalu township said displaced persons had to rely on help from people in the region as they have not received international aid.

“We have been on the run since the army entered our villages, and we have had a lot of difficulties trekking through the jungle with the elderly, pregnant women and children,” he said on condition of anonymity.

“People are exhausted from running and hiding for so long without food. Nowadays it is difficult to get even one or two baskets of rice. We never received international aid. We all struggle to stay alive.”

In addition to the challenges of obtaining food and medicine, the villager said his group also faces dangers such as snakebites while hiding in the jungle.

Similar problems have been reported in Chin state, where transportation is difficult due to the region’s terrain and lack of infrastructure.

A Mindat Township Refugee Camps Management Committee official, who declined to be named, told RFA that staple foods and fuel are becoming expensive, putting displaced people in trouble.

“The price of rice has risen and with the rise in fuel prices, buying rice has become even more difficult,” he said.

“In the meantime, we are also in danger of landslides because it is the rainy season. There are a lot of landslides here because it has been raining non-stop for over two weeks.”

Banya, the director of the ethnic Karenni Human Rights Group, said displaced persons also suffer psychologically if they lack food, shelter and health care.

“Losing their relatives and homes, and being in the jungle for a long time, makes them stressed,” he said.

“When they go from being displaced for a month or two to six months, and eventually more than a year, it’s very difficult to comfort them. Their losses are heavy and it is a difficult situation to bear. At the moment everything – including health issues – has been pretty bad.”

At the moment, he said, only emergency measures to obtain food and medicine can be offered to the displaced, while long-term planning is out of the question.

Utility status unclear

Win Myat Aye, Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management for the shadow government of National Unity (NUG), said efforts are underway to provide aid to the country’s displaced persons, but acknowledged the restrictions he faces.

“With more than a year and a half of experience, our relationship with aid organizations has gradually strengthened and we can now provide more effective support,” he said.

“Access to funding and cash flow is challenging, but now that the NGG has its own sources of income, it can supplement public donations. We are making special efforts in cooperation with ethnic armed groups to provide international support.”

He said he believes humanitarian aid will soon reach the displaced.

At the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Meeting for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid, held on May 6 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, it was decided that the ASEAN Center for Humanitarian Coordination (AHA) would act under the supervision of from Myanmar’s military authorities to provide assistance to the country’s displaced persons.

On September 20, pro-junta media reported that the AHA task force held an interim meeting on the relief situation in Myanmar, but more than four months since the ASEAN decision, RFA has been unable to independently confirm the status of the program.

Attempts by RFA to contact the AHA Center went unanswered Friday.

According to Thailand’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), authorities in Myanmar have killed at least 2,316 civilians and arrested more than 15,600 since the coup, mainly during peaceful anti-junta protests.

Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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