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Why did they all leave their homes?

Displaced people from Myanmar carry belongings as they make their way to the Moei River on the Thai-Myanmar border to return from Thailand's Mae Sot district in Tak province, in this file photo released on April 11 by the Royal Thai Army. [Photo: AFP]

The campaigns by Myanmar's military government to raid and attack settlements, followed by the burning of houses of civilians and various forms of human rights violations throughout the rural areas in Myanmar, have made the news many times in the past two years. As of information on June 14, according to the Data of Myanmar -- an independent organisation that provides useful "data for the people" in country -- at least 70,324 houses of civilians throughout Myanmar have been burned down by the Tatmadaw or the Myanmar Army.

One of the burned houses belonged to Kaw, 26, a young man from a village in Karenni State. Nearly all parts of the town he used to live in have been reduced to a wasteland and turned into a battlefield between the Myanmar Army and its opposition armed forces. Such armed conflicts appear to continue. With few options left, he decided to come to Thailand through the border of Mae Hong Son.

"I used to live in the area between Loikaw and Demoso in Karenni State. It was once a beautiful and peaceful city, until the coup happened," said Kaw.

During times of peace, Kaw worked as a teacher in a public primary school. He loved his teaching profession and never had the urge to switch to do anything else. But when the army staged a coup, he and his colleagues -- like many fellow government officials throughout the country, showed their opposition to the army through the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM). Despite their peaceful protests, Kaw and a legion of compatriots were included on a watchlist kept by the Myanmar authorities.

That means Kaw and those who refused to toe the military government's line, have been unable to travel to other parts of the country and risked being arrested if they do go. Similarly, the school he used to teach at had to close down and remains closed up until now. At that point, the worse was yet to come. One day, his house was attacked and razed to the ground. The whole city had been turned into a battleground and faced bombardments almost every day. Loikaw and Demoso become a fierce theatre of war between the Myanmar Army and the opposition. This has been constantly reported by the media.

Finding no safety in life and left with no other options, he decided to travel to Thailand to find some way to live on. "Most of my fellow villagers in my town have now sought refuge in the forests of the Karenni State. They have no place to call home. Their homes have been entirely destroyed. But living in the forests may not guarantee their safety since they could any day be at the receiving end of aerial attacks by the Myanmar Army. The people who remain there are in need of food, clean drinking water and medicine. All of them desperately try to live on. The situation is very dire" said Kaw.

According to the United Nations' report on May 1, 2023, since the military coup, there have been as many as 1.6 million internally displaced people, and an estimated 55,000 civilian buildings destroyed. Before then, the number of displaced persons in Myanmar was over one million, particularly in Kachin State, North of the country where the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Myanmar Army have engaged in a protracted armed conflict.

Kaw illegally made his way into Thailand without knowing anyone. Given his English skills, he was employed by a hotel. He is planning to resettle as a refugee in a third country like Australia. Even though there is only a glimmer of hope, Kaw considers himself luckier than many of his fellow teachers who came to Thailand after him. Many of them have now ended up working in garbage factories.

At present, the prospect of getting resettled in a third country via Thailand is slim, given the lack of enabling policies. There are still nearly one hundred thousand Myanmar people who continue to live in the nine temporary shelters along the border, and they have been there for 20-30 years. Meanwhile, western countries or any third countries offer very few opportunities to resettle refugees.

Similarly, Khamhom, 16, decided to leave Laihka, south of Shan State, even though she needed to complete her last year of high school. She decided to leave her education behind to look for jobs in Chiang Mai along with her friends from the same town and adjacent ones. They left behind their hometown to travel to Thailand since they felt so desperate and hopeless about the political situation there.

"Some villages are almost entirely abandoned as the villagers have fled to Thailand. My grandmother tried to stop me from coming here, but I insisted on coming," said Khamhom. According to her, the situation in her hometown, as far as young people like her are concerned, means there is barely any future and hope.

Khamhom can adapt herself well to living in the city of Chiang Mai. She can speak Thai fluently since she has been watching Thai TV programmes since she was young. Her concern is not about her language skills. Rather, she is worried about her lack of legal documents since she came here illegally.

At present, the people in Shan State do not just have to endure harassment by the Myanmar Army. They have been subject to harassment by various armed groups as well, including the People's Defense Force (PDF), the Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and most importantly, the clashes between the Shan State Army -- North and the Shan State Army -- South. This has made the Shan people feel hopeless.

At Wan Mong, Huay Long Village Tract, east of Mong Kung, there used to be sixty households here. Only nine remain since local people can no longer tolerate extortion conducted by various armed groups active in the area.

The predicament in which the people of Shan State find themselves is not different from when the Myanmar Army adopted the four-cut policy (cutting food, cutting money, cutting communication and cutting forces). The policy caused the extensive displacement of hundreds of thousands of people in Shan State, and their destination was Thailand.

Following the coup, the situation of armed conflicts in Shan State is not different from other states, particularly in Kyaukme, Hsipaw, Namtu, Mong Kung, Laihka, Kyethi, Lawksawk and Hopong. This has prompted many people in Shan State to decide to leave behind their homes.

They could no longer tolerate such armed conflicts, as well as being arrested for interrogation and physical abuse, being asked to pay money, or even being drafted as military forces by various armed ethnic organisations.

Since the coup, at least 20,000 civilians in Myanmar have been killed as a result of the clashes and armed conflicts. Given the worsening conflicts and human rights violations in Myanmar, how will Thailand, as a neighbouring country which shares 2,400 kilometres of its border with Myanmar and ethnic states, adopt a a policy in response to the massive exodus to its country?

A question to be poignantly asked is, given the long and close kinship of people on both sides of the Western border of Thailand, including the cases of Kaw and Khamhom during the worst times of their lives -- why did the Thai government decide to maintain their cosy relationships with the leaders of the Myanmar junta?

Early this week, the Thai government even organised a regional meeting on Myanmar and gave the floor to a despotic regime that has terrorised its own people. On World Refugee Day, which falls on June 20 and was observed earlier this week on Tuesday, it was interesting to see how the caretaker government of Thailand responded to its own people, the people who fled from persecution and the international community. ©Transborder News


(c) 2023, Bangkok News via Transborder News


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