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Myanmar bishop seeks aid to feed, educate displaced children

Mawlamyine Diocese is now home to hundreds of children of families displaced by the ongoing conflict
Myanmar refugee children, who fled a surge in violence as the military cracked down on rebel groups in February 2022, cook at a camp near the Myanmar-Thailand border in Kayin state

Myanmar refugee children, who fled a surge in violence as the military cracked down on rebel groups in February 2022, cook at a camp near the Myanmar-Thailand border in Kayin state. (Photo: AFP)

Published: September 13, 2023 10:29 AM GMT

A Catholic bishop in conflict-torn Myanmar has reaffirmed the church’s commitment to offer shelter, food and education to hundreds of displaced children and appealed for more aid to support them.

Bishop Maurice Nyunt Wai of Mawlamyine in southern Myanmar said his diocese will continue to offer daily humanitarian assistance to more than 700 children now sheltering in St. Mary of the Assumption parish, Fides news agency reported on Sept. 12.

Hundreds of more children are also getting church support in other 14 parishes of the diocese, he said.

"These are the children of families displaced within the country, several thousand in our diocese", Bishop Wai said.

Many families, Catholic and non-Catholic, were caught in the line of fire between the army and the Popular Defense Forces (PDF), composed mainly of young people opposed to the military dictatorship, he explained.

The conflict forced hundreds of families to flee to the forests where they survived amid enormous difficulties, he noted.

“Daily subsistence is a challenge. Social services are at a standstill. Most children and young people do not go to school,” the prelate said.

The priests, catechists and volunteers in parishes have banded together to offer help to those who sought the church’s help. They have organized school service and basic humanitarian assistance.

The bishop pointed out the diocese has 15,000 Catholics in an estimated population of 2.7 million in the region, so the church’s ability to assist people in need is limited.

The priest, religious and laypeople have been “prudent and patient” in offering assistance to the displaced people because the church has been targeted as the military accused the church of supporting the rebel forces, he said.

“We must continue to act in charity, giving comfort and hope, but quietly, in silence and in hiding,” he said, adding that the church’s aid to needy people should not be seen as a support for the militias.

Due to attacks on churches and church-run institutes, people have abandoned churches and houses, amid a lack of security and safety and no chance to attend religious services, he said.

“People are tired, sad and disoriented, because of the violence which does not cease. But, in the ordeal, the faithful give a strong testimony of faith, they continue to come to churches and to pray intensely,” the bishop said.

The situation in the diocese reflects the scenario in most Catholic dioceses in Myanmar.

According to the Institute for Strategy and Policy, a Thailand-based think-tank, in the first half of this year, the number of internally displaced people increased by 680,000.

Altogether, more than 2.6 million people have been displaced in the country since the military coup in 2021 that triggered unrest and deadly conflicts.

Besides relentless attacks on both rebel forces and civilians, the military junta has been denying charities and humanitarian groups access to affected regions to offer food and medicines to people.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that the restrictions on humanitarian access have increased in the southeast and the Kachin region, plunging the communities into a humanitarian emergency.

In August, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths visited Myanmar for three days. He called for “increased humanitarian access and funding to help the country's 18 million Burmese citizens in need of aid across Myanmar.”

“The successive crises that the country has experienced have left a third of the population in need of humanitarian assistance,” Griffiths said, calling on the political leaders of Myanmar and the international community to "do more and better."

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