Number of Myanmar’s displaced doubles to over 800,000
By Vatican News staff reporter
The number of people displaced within Myanmar has now crossed the 800,000 mark, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Friday.
Addressing journalists in Geneva, UNHCR spokesperson Matthew Saltmarsh said the agency was stepping up aid for the displaced as conflict intensifies. “Security is deteriorating rapidly across the country as fighting and armed conflict intensifies with no sign of abating”, Saltmarsh said.
Before the 1 February coup, there were already some 370,000 IDPs. The coup that overthrew the democratically elected government and triggered nationwide protests followed by a brutal crackdown on opponents, has displaced some 440,000 more people.
The crisis has revived the military’s old conflicts with armed ethnic organizations, while numerous civil resistance groups have sprung up in self-defence against the atrocities of security forces. More than1,500 people have been killed by security forces so far.
The UNHCR believes the displacement trend will accelerate in the coming weeks and months.
Ethnic dominated regions
The UNHCR says that Kayin, Kayah, Mon and Shan (South) states as well as Bago (East) and Tanintharyi regions, account for more than half of the 440,000 newly displaced civilians. Kayin and Kayah states remain the most affected, as hostilities between various armed groups have triggered large-scale displacements.
Another conflict-affected area with pressing humanitarian needs is the northwest, where about 190,000 people remain displaced in Chin State, Magway Region and Sagaing Region.
According to the agency’s spokesperson, humanitarian access in many parts remains restricted due to insecurity, roadblocks and challenges in obtaining access approvals.
As a result, host communities and local responders continue to play a leading role in the assistance, showing solidarity with each other by donating what they can, Saltmarsh explained.
UNHCR has been working with UN agencies, local partners and communities to assist those affected. Last year, it reached some 170,000 individuals in nine states and regions.
In all locations, UNHCR and partners distributed relief items including tarpaulins, ropes, blankets, kitchen sets, mosquito nets, buckets, sleeping mats, sanitary kits, COVID-19 personal protective equipment, solar lamps, and winterization kits for adults and children.
In Shan State, where a growing number of IDPs have arrived from conflict-hit Kayah State since the start of 2022, the agency recently established a temporary base to coordinate the distribution of emergency aid.
The supply of relief items to Kayah state capital Taunggyi and the surrounding areas began in mid-January and quickly expanded to neighbouring townships. Within a month, UNHCR and partners were able to reach some 10,000 IDPs in Shan as well as 2,000 in Kayah.
Some 600,000 stateless Rohingya in Rakhine state, including some 148,000 displaced in camps, villages and displacement sites, require humanitarian support.
Political, socio-economic, health crises
The humanitarian situation in Myanmar remains precarious, with rising commodity prices, job and income losses, disruptions to basic services and prolonged insecurity.
A recent report by the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO) said that Myanmar lost some 1.6 million jobs in 2021. It found that the coup battered the country’s labour market that was already weakened by the impact of Covid-19, with women workers the hardest hit.
The continuing political turmoil and conflict have complicated the socio-economic and public health challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic. Hence, most of the displaced are dependent on humanitarian support for survival.
Despite operational challenges, UNHCR is committed to providing critical humanitarian assistance to those in need and calls for full, safe and unhindered humanitarian access across Myanmar, so that no disruption to lifesaving work occurs for local, national, and international aid agencies.
For 2022, UNHCR needs a total of $56.7 million to support the vulnerable communities. Saltmarsh said the priority of humanitarians will be on “maintaining basic safeguards, advocacy for improved access to fundamental rights, mitigating the risk of negative coping strategies, preventing forced returns and building resilience for over 1.2 million IDPs and stateless people in Myanmar”.
Ironically, the UNHCR report came a day ahead of Myanmar’s Union Day, which junta leader Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing marked with a military parade in the capital Naypyitaw on Saturday. The 12 February holiday marks the day in 1947 when the Panglong Agreement was signed and passed and Myanmar (formerly Burma) became a unified country. (Source: UN News, UNHCR)