Nearly 3 million people have fled Myanmar due to armed conflict, nearly half of whom left the country after last year’s military coup, an independent research group said on Friday.
The Myanmar Institute for Strategic and Policy Studies (ISP-Myanmar) said 2,930,201 internally displaced persons (IDPs), or slightly more than 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 amid the conflict that followed the February 1, 2021, pushing.
According to ISP-Myanmar, the number of people in Myanmar classified as internally displaced due to civil war more than doubled to 1,019,190 after the coup from 497,200 before the takeover.
The research group said its list was compiled from data collected 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 researcher Kyaw Htet Aung told RFA Burmese that all combatants in Myanmar must adopt measures to reduce civilian suffering.
“IDPs do not have full access to humanitarian assistance at the moment and their numbers are increasing month by month,” he said.
“How do we solve the problem? All adversaries must pay more attention to military codes of conduct to minimize harm to civilians. If they can do that, I think civilian suffering would be significantly reduced. Additionally, IDPs must have better access to international aid .”
According to ISP-Myanmar, 533,833 people displaced by violence since the coup are from the Sagaing region, where the military has faced some of the fiercest resistance to its rule in the past 19 months.
Aid workers told RFA that fighting between the military and the armed opposition is intensifying and spreading rapidly throughout Myanmar, resulting in a significant increase in the number of internally displaced people and civilian casualties.
No access to international aid
A villager who recently fled the fighting in Sagaing’s Kanbalu township said IDPs have had to rely on help from people in the region because they have not received any international aid.
“We have been on the run since the moment the military entered our villages and we have faced many difficulties moving through the jungle with elderly, pregnant women and children,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“People are exhausted from running and hiding for so long without food. These days it is difficult to get one or two baskets of rice. We have never received international aid. We are all fighting to stay alive.”
Apart from the challenges of procuring food and medicine, the villager said his group also faces dangers like snakebites while sheltering 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.
An official from the Mindat Township Refugee Camps Management Committee, who declined to be named, told RFA that basic food and fuel are becoming expensive, leaving IDPs in dire straits.
“The price of rice has increased and with the increase in fuel prices, it has become even more difficult to buy rice,” he said.
“Meanwhile, we are also facing the danger of landslides because it is the rainy season. There are many landslides here as it has been raining continuously for more than two weeks.”
Banya, the director of the ethnic Karenni Human Rights Group, said IDPs also suffer psychological distress when they lack food, shelter and health care.
“The loss of their family members and home, and being in the jungle for a long time, leaves them stressed,” he said.
“When they go from expecting one or two months of displacement to six months and finally more than a year, it is very difficult to console them. Their losses are great and it is a difficult situation to bear. At the moment, everything has – including health conditions—been pretty bad.”
At present, he said, only emergency measures to provide food and medicine can be offered to the displaced, while long-term planning has been ruled out.
Assistance program status unclear
Win Myat Aye, minister of humanitarian affairs and disaster management for the shadow National Unity Government (NUG), said efforts are underway to provide assistance to the country’s internally displaced people, but acknowledged the limitations he faces.
“With more than a year and a half of experience, our connection with aid groups has gradually become stronger and we can now provide more effective support,” he said.
“Access to finance and cash flow is a challenge, but now that NUG has its own sources of income, it can supplement public donations. We make a special effort in cooperation with ethnic armed groups to provide international support.”
He said he believes humanitarian aid will soon be able to reach the displaced.
At the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Humanitarian Assistance Coordination Meeting held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on 6 May, it was decided that the ASEAN Humanitarian Coordination Center (AHA) would act under the supervision of the Myanmar military authorities to provide aid to the country’s internally displaced persons.
On September 20, pro-junta media reported that the AHA task force held an ad hoc meeting on the aid situation in Myanmar, but more than four months after the ASEAN decision, the RFA has been unable to independently confirm the program’s status.
RFA’s attempts 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, mostly during peaceful anti-junta protests.
Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.