Restrictions imposed by military junta hampering aid to a sizeable Christian population in Kayah state
People shelter in the jungle near Demoso, Kayah state after they fled fighting between the Myanmar military and the Karenni People’s Defense Forces on June 1, 2021. (Photo: AFP / UCAN files)
Thousands of internally displaced people in the civil war-hit Myanmar need humanitarian aid due to the restrictions imposed by the ruling military in an eastern state with a sizeable Christian population.
Fighting has intensified in recent months in the mountainous region of eastern Kayah between the military and the combined groups of established-ethnic armed groups and newly formed people’s defense forces (PDFs).
Aid groups have accused the military, which toppled the civilian government in February 2021, of continuing its indiscriminate attacks on civilians in the region.
“Access constraints have increased, notably in the Southeast and Kachin, further restricting people’s access to vital services and hindering the delivery of assistance to affected communities,” the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Gunfire and artillery shelling are heard every day and there is an increase in the number of displaced persons who have taken shelter in church compounds and relatives’ homes, said a Church source from Loikaw, capital of Kayah state, bordering Thailand,
There are nearly 250,000 displaced persons in 200 camps in Kayah state. More than 9,000 people from the state have fled their homes and taken refuge in Thailand since the fighting started in June, according to rights groups.
An estimated 80,000 people are housed in camps, run by the Church in Kayah, where Christians make up 46 percent of the state’s 350,000 population. The state houses nearly 90,000 Catholics.
“The Church is trying its best to provide food, shelter, and medicines to the displaced people amid restrictions and rising commodity prices,” the source, who did not want to be named, told UCA News.
The Karenni communities, who mainly stay in Kayah state and speak the Tibeto-Burman languages, have appealed to international donors to supply food and non-food items.
Around 50,000 rice bags, costing US$1.45 million, are needed per month and tarpaulin and blankets worth US$445,000 are needed for more than 30,000 families, said the Karenni State Interim Executive Council, based in Thailand.
They asked the donors to route the aid through the National Unity Government (NUG) in exile, comprising elected lawmakers and members of parliament ousted in the 2021 coup d'état. The government in exile is based in Thailand.
“We have asked the international community to provide political and humanitarian support to Karenni [Kayah] state,” the group said in a statement on Sept.19.
The group also urged the government in Thailand to allow the refugees to stay in temporary camps.
‘Karenni’ is a collective term used during the colonial British era. Karenni, also known as the Red Karen, includes several ethnic groups.
The Karenni communities around the world have called on the international bodies to impose an arms embargo and stop selling jet fuels to the military regime which promised to hold polls in August this year and later postponed them.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in Myanmar has expressed growing concern about the Karenni refugees and demanded emergency humanitarian aid.
The Kayah state became one of the hot-beds of conflict in strife-torn Myanmar where the military faces strong resistance from armed groups, mostly Christians.
Dozens of churches have been hit by airstrikes and shelling and at least 16 parishes in the Loikaw diocese have been abandoned after priests, nuns, and followers fled their homes.
According to the United Nations, nearly 18 million people need humanitarian assistance, 2 million are displaced, and over 15 million are food-insecure in the Buddhist-majority Southeast nation, home to 54.2 million people.
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