Today, on World Refugee Day 2020, the Human Rights Foundations of Monland (HURFOM) commemorates the resilience of refugees from Burma/Myanmar and the many internally displaced persons (IDPs) due to the ongoing conflict in Rakhine, Chin, Kachin, Shan, and Karen states.
“Since the onset of the current pandemic, things have become increasingly more challenging for refugees, IDPs, and the local authorities who host them. In Mon and southern Karen states, the daily lives of war affected IDPs were already challenging prior to this crisis. Most of them are extremely vulnerable to socio–economic changes, and they are excluded from national response plans and services. Thus, I would like to call upon humanitarian aid groups and donor agencies to pay special attention to these communities at this time and support their needs,” said HURFOM Programme Director, Nai Aue Mon
HURFOM expresses concern regarding the approximately 100,000 mostly Karen and Karenni refugees remaining in the nine refugee camps along the Thailand–Burma/Myanmar border, whereby a failing peace process and dwindling humanitarian funds compel some refugees to return, despite persecution, the threat of landmines, and lack of access to their former lands as potential issues.
Moreover, HURFOM expresses grave concern over the blocking of international humanitarian aid since 2016 to the approximately 40,000 IDPs who are residing in Kachin Independence Organization (KIO)-controlled areas. The emergence of COVID-19 has made it even more difficult for local aid groups to reach these populations.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, in Kachin areas, we are all in this together. In order to respond to COVID-19 in IDP and remote areas, we, Kachin Women’s Association of Thailand (KWAT), collaborated with CSOs, Christian-based charities, and other CBOs and formed a joint committee called ‘COVID-19 Concern and Response Committee – Kachin (CCRCK)’. We prioritize assisting children, the elderly, and disabled persons. We have done an assessment and, according to these data, the Government is unable to deliver their resources and assistance. Thus, we are currently focusing more on remote IDPs and conflict-affected communities, trying to put everyone in the picture and make sure that no one is left behind.”
San Htoi, Kachin Women’s Association of Thailand (KWAT)
“Since the outbreak of COVID-19, we have been collaborating with local CSOs and conducting awareness-raising campaigns in conflict-affected populations. Across conflict areas, livelihoods and food security are at risk. As you all know, the government has shut down internet access in most conflict areas and people have no opportunities to access information on prevention and response to COVID-19. Thus, it is important to mobilize local resources and support to civil society groups and, on the other hand, build relationships with frontline leaders and service providers during these critical times.”
Ting Oo, General Secretary, All Arakan Students’ and Youths’ Congress (AASYC)
Many IDP sites in Mon State, often remote in nature, have forewarned of looming food shortages and crisis in the midst of the rainy season:
“Most of us have been moving into a situation of destitution. Yes, the situation, one of moving from poverty to destitution and this virus [COVID-19], made us increasingly isolated by the lockdown. New regulations and rules make it very hard to access our jobs, we cannot afford to feed our families. Now, that some restrictions are lifted, it is already too late and the rainy season has begun. We did not have a chance to work to collect and store foods during the dry season. On behalf of my villagers, I would like to request the [state-level] government and the New Mon State Party (NMSP) to arrange sustainable jobs for us during the interim and to make sure to recognize health, education, and social rights.”
Nai San Oo, 44, Baleh Doon Phite IDP Site, (originally from southern Ye Township, Mon State)
“It is hard for me to say ‘NO’ when my children come and ask for more food. I know that we cannot feed them enough. This is the hardest time for me during these lockdown periods. My husband left me with 3 children about 2 years ago, and I tried to survive on my own, collecting tall grasses and working in the rubber plantation. As other residents here in Kyaik Soi Mon village, I haven’t been able to earn and find food since the second week of April. My neighbors assisted me with approximately 10 kg of rice, and the village committee supported me with another 10 kg. I would like to express my thanks to them. People have big hearts and care for my family.
You know, this lockdown reminds me of my young time, stuck in the forest afraid of being killed by the Burmese soldiers and their landmines. Now, I feel like this again. Now we’re afraid of going out and getting the virus. The worst thing is most of us living here with no job now.”
MI San San Aye, Kyaik Soi Mon IDP Site, eastern Ye Township, Mon State
“We are very concerned about the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. This is why we formed the Committee to Control and Prevent COVID-19, and we collaborated with civil society groups to see what we could change. We have set-up 18 health service checkpoints including some IDPs areas in eastern Ye and northern Yebyu townships. We transformed our drug rehabilitation center in Ga Gon Zwel to a quarantine center in the entry of IDPs sites and provided health services to the local residents as well as new returnees from neighborhood countries. Of course, there are lots of difficulties and challenges in this critical time for all of us, and we are making sure not to leave out marginalized and vulnerable communities.”
Nai Banyar Lae, the head of COVID-19 Control and Prevention Committee and CEC of NMSP
As long as there is instability in Burma/Myanmar, ethnic people will continue to flee and seek refuge. There is no simple solution to this complex problem, but it is clear that there is no solution if the civil war continues. Thus, this statement also calls upon all stakeholders, international governments, communities, peacemakers, and donors to pressure Burma/Myanmar to build stability and preserve peace
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