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Displaced people seeking the safey in a jungle in Kayah state, Myanmar. Displaced people seeking the safey in a jungle in Kayah state, Myanmar.   (AFP or licensors)

Myanmar: 3 million in urgent need of help; junta arrests Caritas staff

Since the February 1 military coup, Myanmar’s crisis has deepened with arrests and a bloody crackdown against protesters. The pandemic and other factors have added to the people’s desperate situation.

By Vatican News staff writer

The United Nations Country team in Myanmar is gravely concerned about the humanitarian crisis unfolding in the troubled nation following the February 2 military coup, with some 3 million people desperately in need of help.  The alarm came on Tuesday as the junta started releasing some of the more than 5,600 prisoners it said it would free under an unusual amnesty.

Humanitarian crisis  

“According to humanitarians, some three million women, children and men urgently need life-saving assistance and protection due to conflict, food insecurity, natural disasters and Covid-19,” said Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General. “This includes one million people who were in need at the start of the year, plus an additional two million people identified as needing help after the military takeover on February 1st,” Haq told journalists at the daily press briefing in New York on Tuesday.

He pointed out that some 219,000 people have been newly displaced since the first of February, as a result of clashes between the Myanmar Armed Forces and different ethnic armed organizations and the local people’s defense forces. The humanitarian situation in the country has been worsened by the recent wave of Covid-19, which is affecting people who were already in need of assistance. 

UN reaches out

“The UN once again calls on parties concerned to ensure that aid can be scaled up to reach people affected by the continued armed conflict,” Haq said.  He pointed out that the UN’s children fund, UNICEF, and its partners have reached more than 33,000 people with water and sanitation supplies, following floods in Rakhine and Kayin states.  UNICEF also responded to the needs of more than 1,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Kyauk Ta Lone camp with emergency hygiene kits. UNICEF worked with partners to distribute essential supplies related to its Water, Sanitation and Hygiene or WASH programme in northern Rakhine.  It continues to help nearly 150,000 IDPs and others in Kachin, Northern Shan, Rakhine and Sagaing. 

Caritas staff arrested

In a related development, 7 staff members of Caritas, the Catholic bishops charity organization, were arrested on Monday by the military junta in Loikaw in the eastern state of Kaya.  They were on their way to deliver humanitarian aid to displaced people.  Two of their vehicles were also seized. 

The Chancellor of Loikaw Diocese, Father Francis Soe Naing, reported the incident to the Italian religious news agency, SIR, saying the Caritas Loikaw team was taking humanitarian aid, such as food and medicines, to the displaced persons.  Security forces stopped and arrested them, seizing 2 vehicles.  

Targeting Christians

The episode took place not many days after a military attack on the Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception, in Phruso, under Loikaw Diocese.  This was the 7th assault on a church after the February coup that overthrew the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Father Naing said that in Kayah State, the conflict between the local defense forces and the junta’s security forces is intense, forcing thousands of people, including women and children, to flee their homes.  It is to these displaced that the Catholic Church is trying to reach out.

The priest told SIR that among the prisoners freed by the junta were 3 Baptist pastors.  One of them is an elderly man with serious health problems, who had been charged and then arrested on 28th June just for organizing prayers for peace.

Father Naing said the Baptist Convention plays a key role in humanitarian response to the problems faced by the internally displaced persons in the States of Kachin and Shan that have a large presence of Christians and where armed anti-junta ethnic groups are active.  Christians are often harassed by security forces under suspicion of abetting insurgents. Churches are often raided and bombed, especially in the States of Kayah, Chin and Kachin. Priests and pastors have been arrested, while many unarmed civilians, including Christians, have been killed.

Amnesty for prisoners

Regarding the release of political prisoners by the junta, Father Naing pointed out though this may be good news, many innocent people and political leaders, such as Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint, are still in prison. Many people, he said, think that the military is releasing just a few prisoners after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) delivered a rare snub by declining to invite military coup leader, Min Aung Hlaing, to an upcoming summit, even though Myanmar is part of the 10-member regional bloc. 

His announcement came three days after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations delivered a rare snub by declining to invite Min Aung Hlaing to an upcoming summit, even though Myanmar is part of the 10-member regional bloc. The ASEAN move came after Hlaing refused to grant the request of the special envoy, Brunei Second Foreign Minister Erywan Yusof, to meet with Suu Kyi. 

20 October 2021, 18:39