8 June 2020
Chin State, Burma
Amidst the COVID-19 crisis, civilians in Chin State are forced to flee as Burma Army jet fighters open fire in villages across Paletwa Township. The escalating conflict between the Arakan Army and Burma Army has been disastrous on local populations as civilians are caught in the crossfire. On March 15, the Burma Army dropped bombs into Wohma Village, Chin State, killing nine people and wounding 12 people.
According to a report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), recent clashes have led to the displacement of over 61,000 persons in Arakan and Chin states since March 16, 2020. Many civilians have sought refuge in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps throughout the area, but the influx of people has depleted the resources of the camps.
In May, the Free Burma Rangers Falam Team carried out a mission in southern Chin State to distribute aid to displaced people at the Sami IDP Camp and document human rights abuses endemic to this ceaseless conflict.
On March 15, a quiet Sunday afternoon was disrupted as Burma Army jet fighters tore across the sky, dropping bombs into civilian-occupied villages below. Throughout the mission, FBR team members conducted interviews with survivors of these attacks.
Name: Daw Khin Tin Oo
Village: Mit Sa Nit
Date: 17 May 2020
I am from the Mit Sa Nit Village in the Paletwa Township of Chin State. We arrived in the Sami IDP Camp on March 15, 2020, after Burma Army Jet Fighters flew over our village and dropped bombs on us. I have eight children, and my husband was killed by the bomb when it was dropped on our home. When the bomb dropped on our house my husband and I were standing together, and when the bomb fell it touched him and now we are separated forever. I tried to gather my children together and get them to safety because the jets were still dropping bombs on the village. My kids kept asking where their father was. We fled to the jungle and then to Sami Camp. But still, we are not safe. My daughter is five months old and I cannot produce enough milk. We do not have money to buy milk so she cries out of hunger. My children still hope their father is not dead. They cry for their father, and want to leave to go find him but I know he is dead. I saw him die. I am afraid we will starve. We cannot leave this camp, and without help, this camp will run out of food and we will have nothing to eat.
Name: Khin Ma Nin
Village : Wohma
Deceased Husband’s Name: Uh Lahthun Uh
Date: 17 May 2020
We are in the Sami IDP Camp because Burma Army jet fighters dropped bombs on our village. The bombs killed my husband. When the bombs struck our village, I fled with my four children. We had no food until we arrived at this camp. We had to leave everything behind. We lost all of our money and our home. I suffer because I see my children ask other children for food to eat and toys to play with because I have nothing. By the grace of God, we reached the IDP camp and I was able to feed my children, but now there is little food. We are very thankful for FBR and other NGOs that help to feed us.
Name : Mar Lah
Date: 18 May 2020
On March 15, 2020, at 3:00 p.m., Burma Army jet fighters suddenly dropped bombs on our villages. Nine villagers died and twelve were wounded. When the bombs dropped it was chaos. Houses around us burned to the ground, we cannot see because the smoke, we cannot find each other. It is so loud I can only hear my own voice but feel like I can hear the dead cry out. We are all very afraid and flee to the jungle because the planes kept circling and dropping bombs. We had to flee in the dark and use no lights so the Burma Army could not see us moving. We fled from March 15 until the evening of March 16. We fled with our children and we had no food until we arrived at the Sami IDP Camp. Now we face trouble at the camp. We do not know who to trust and fear both the Burma Army and Arakan Army as we think more fighting will break out. We cannot work or make money and there is not enough food at this camp. All we can do is hope and pray for donations.
Both the movement and actions of the Rangers were limited due to COVID-19 and the presence of Burma Army soldiers. Soldiers from Burma Army Battalion 169 occupy the camp, blocking the movement of individuals and supplies to other villages in Paletwa District. According to the Rangers, only Burma Army soldiers are permitted in this area and any civilian found will be killed.
No Good Life Club programs were held on the mission as the gathering of large groups are barred in the IDP camp due to COVID-19. Nonetheless, the Rangers were still able to distribute clothes and over 150 bags of rice to IDPs in the camp.
FBR medics were able to set up a medical clinic in the camp. Alongside local nurses, who are unable to move beyond the camp due to the restrictions set forth by the Burma Army soldiers, the Rangers treated 480 patients with ailments including: anemia, gastritis, kidney issues and the common cold.
The situation in Arakan State and southern Chin State is becoming increasingly deadly. Surges in conflict have led to civilian casualties and the displacement of thousands amid the coronavirus outbreak. The FBR Falam Team leader hopes to conduct more missions in the future in order to distribute food, medicine, and school supplies to those in need.