5 Facts About IDPs in MyanmarIn recent months, the eyes of the international community have been on the actions of the Myanmar military and the state of internally displaced people (IDPs). Ethnic minorities in the country have been experiencing this violent instability at the hands of the military for generations. However, COVID-19 and the military coup in February 2021 have exacerbated the situation for IDPs in Myanmar. The coup affected several states in Myanmar, including the Rakhine, Kachin, Shan, Kayin and Chin states.

5 Key Facts About IDPs in Myanmar

  1. Thousands flee because of violence and conflict: As of December 31, 2019, there are more than 450,000 IDPs throughout Myanmar due to conflict and violence. This number does not include the additional 800,000 Rohingya refugees in neighboring Bangladesh or the 100,000 ethnic minorities from Myanmar who fled their homes in April 2021 to seek refuge in camps along the border. The armed conflict between ethnic militias and the military has resulted in IDPs fleeing to the refugee camps. Natural disasters have also forced IDPs to flee to the camps.
  2. Diseases are quicker to spread in refugee camps: Camps are overcrowded with poor living conditions. These camps have led to higher rates of communicable diseases, including tuberculosis, scabies, dysentery, COVID-19 and other viruses. Human Rights Watch and others have referred to some IDP camps as essentially “open-air prisons.” COVID-19 rates in IDP camps are thought to be underreported due to a lack of testing and access for aid organizations to assist people.
  3. Limited access to aid: Crucial aid is blocked by the central government. During the pandemic, restrictions on movement in Myanmar have prohibited humanitarian organizations from properly distributing medical care and emergency supplies to IDPs in the camps. The lockdowns have also prevented children in IDP camps from attending school. Additionally, adults have not been able to work, making it difficult for parents to pay for school and food.
  4. Lost and stolen property: Many IDPs have no land to return to. Before the military coup, the government in Myanmar prioritized closing IDP camps throughout the country, but many IDPs in Myanmar no longer have homes or land to return to. This is a result of natural disasters and military attacks destroying people’s homes. People have also lost land to large development projects, which only benefit the central government and international entities. Additionally, some IDPs lost their properties due to changes in laws and citizenship requirements.
  5. Protests and violence in Myanmar: The military coup in Myanmar has led to increasing difficulties. With massive civil unrest occurring throughout Myanmar, including outside of ethnic minority areas, IDPs are vulnerable to additional violence from the military. At the same time, many ethnic Burmese protestors are beginning to show solidarity with the struggles of ethnic minorities. Some have even condemned the military’s brutality toward ethnic minorities, including the Rohingya.

Finding a Path Forward

International NGOs and the U.N. have a presence in Myanmar. However, access to sensitive regions is not always possible for aid workers. Fortunately, many ethnic groups have grassroots organizations that deal with various issues faced by IDPs and refugees in neighboring countries. Women’s rights groups have been particularly vocal in advocating for the rights of ethnic minorities throughout the country. Unfortunately, at leadership levels and in educational opportunities, there is still a wide gender gap. This makes women’s rights groups’ work crucial in shifting attitudes to be inclusive of all voices in Myanmar.

The Women’s League of Burma (WLB) is a collective of 13 different organizations representing several ethnic groups from Myanmar. While each organization has specific needs, all share the same goal of involving women in peace negotiations between ethnic militias and the Myanmar military. There have been ceasefires of varying success over the years. However, long-term peace agreements have been elusive and certain voices, such as those from WLB, are crucial in advocating for ethnic minorities. Voices from the WLB are also important in defending the rights of children and other vulnerable groups.

Despite uncertain times for the future of Myanmar, there are hopeful signs that the long-term issues faced by ethnic minorities are receiving more attention, both within Myanmar and throughout the international community.

– Matthew Brown
Photo: Flickr

How the Media Misrepresents Myanmar
How does one remain faithful in the face of death? This is the question many Rohingya Muslims are currently faced with, both in Myanmar and in the refugee camps in surrounding countries to which they have scattered in the past two years. They are trying to survive amid governmental strife, warfare, abuse and trafficking since an acceleration of cultural oppression and threats that started in 2011.

Government military campaigns in Myanmar have caused more than 700,000 individuals to flee to refugee camps in search of safety and stability. While searching for safety and aid, women and children have reported gang rape and murders by military officials, and even exploitation in the countries they reached hoping to find help. Another 100,000 refugees fled the country to escape the inevitable harm of monsoon season. Even as they travel to receive aid, it is possible that they will at least be injured.

However, featuring this kind of information exclusively in news headlines is how the media misrepresents Myanmar. Citizens of Myanmar are actually living resilient and fulfilling lives with support and aid from humanitarian efforts. They are able to focus their energy on a bright future ahead.

Programs Helping Myanmar Youths and Families

In 2012, with the help of UNICEF, Myanmar began the “Seven Things This Year Initiative,” a project working with mothers and children to promote “key family health practices.” The project encouraged proper planning for each family. As of 2016, this project is being evaluated for sustainability; however, it has already benefited many displaced refugees and expectant mothers.

In 2018, training programs are providing opportunities for successful integration into communities by offering education and vocational training through apps. Residents participating in training can gain skills in business training, basic budgeting, English fundamentals and nutrition safety.

Only focusing on just one part of the population is also how the media misrepresents Myanmar. For example, another population misrepresented or underrepresented by media in Myanmar is the youth within the community. Resiliency training and practice is a priority focus for youth in the education system.

The Myanmar Red Cross Society has more than 44,000 volunteers, 1,300 of whom are active youth members. They assist with planning and participation in programming initiatives which promote safe learning facilities, proper healthcare, water and sanitation intervention, disaster management, school safety plans and exercises, risk reduction and resilience education. By doing this, Myanmar youth are encouraging engagement in the community and empowering future leadership within the country.

The Media Represents Myanmar by Not Reporting on Its Largest City

Focusing on the southern portions of the country, where most of the Rohingya crisis is located, is also how the media misrepresents Myanmar. While that crisis is highly relevant and impacting more than just the southern region, Yangon, which is highly populated and located in the northern part of the country, is currently thriving compared to years past, with a low percentage of poverty (16 percent) and positive record of births, sanitation and adequate nutrition.

Between 2018 and 2022, Myanmar is focusing on citizen’s health and nutrition, sanitation and hygiene, education, child protection, social policy and the monitoring of child rights. This focus will allow for proper access to healthcare, improved quality of life, the promotion of a safe, inclusive, and non-violent community, poverty reduction, recovery from violence and exploitation and establish welfare.

While in the midst of transition throughout the country, resilient Myanmar residents are seeking and finding opportunities that are empowering. Resiliency partnered with wisdom and discernment in their use of technology will light their path and empower their strength.

– Ashley Cooper
Photo: Flickr

Conflict in MyanmarSince winning independence from colonial rule in 1948, ethnic conflict in Myanmar has plagued the country. Myanmar endured the world’s longest ongoing civil war, in which the ethnic Bamar Buddhist majority living in the central valley has tried to control other groups living in the mountainous outskirts of the country.

An impressively free election in 2015 gave power to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi of the National League for Democracy (NLD). The foremost goal of the administration is to end the decades of ethnic conflict, but the complexity of these issues does not allow for easy solutions.

The Alliance for Gender Inclusion in the Peace Process works to promote women’s rights and gender equality as a method to end Myanmar’s ethnic conflict.

Obstacles to women entering decision-making roles include the prevalence of gender violence and entrenched societal expectations that women must play supporting roles in society. Myanmar’s constitution condones discrimination, with section 352 stating “nothing…shall prevent the appointment of men to the positions that are suitable for men only.” Women are frequently characterized as “decorative.”

The conflict affects women, men and children differently since they occupy different roles in society. Men are susceptible to combat-related injuries, while women bear the burden of sexual violence, damage to property, and mental trauma. Despite these obstacles, women take an active role in mitigating the damage done by the conflict in Myanmar.

Women have convinced conflicting groups to fight in locations farther from villages. They have also protected men and children by sending them away or hiding them and stepped up to keep the village functioning as their men fled for safety. Excluding women from the peace process prevents the perspective and experiences of 52 percent of the population.

Women better understand the impact of conflict on women, children, the disabled and the elderly. The role of men in these conflicts effectively prevents them from being able to effectively represent large portions of society in negotiating solutions.

International research has shown that women tend to best represent marginalized groups. According to a study by the United Nations, women participating in the decision-making process is a crucial element for achieving sustainable peace.

Involving women in political processes is also an effective strategy for countering extremism. Extreme religions tend to restrict women’s rights, but funding and supporting women weakens the influence of extremists.

In Myanmar, women have crucial roles in dealing with and responding to conflict, and the efforts supported by the Alliance for Gender Inclusion in the Peace Process are a promising step in the right direction to ending decades of conflict in Myanmar.

Kristen Nixon

Photo: Google