The Situation of IDPs and Refugees in Myanmar/Burma
The most recent UNHCR Myanmar Emergency Regional Update indicated that since February 2021 the number of refugees and IDPs have continued to increase, with 39,000 people from Myanmar/Burma displaced to neighboring countries and 442,000 internally internally displaced from their homes within Myanmar/Burma. Given the displacement that existed prior to the military coup, there are now 980,000 refugees and asylum seekers from Myanmar/Burma in neighboring countries and 812,000 internally displaced. In the past month, intense fighting in the South-East in Kayah State has led to mass displacement of tens of thousands of people from their homes. Over 3,000 people in Matupi Township, Chin State have been displaced due to fighting. There continue to be a shortages of food, medical supplies, fuel, and winter items for IDPs.
CAM confirmed with a Mizoram state government official that the number of Chin refugees fleeing Myanmar/Burma continues to increase due to continued fighting between the Burmese military and the Chin Defense Force (CDF). The Mizoram state government official also told CAM that the Mizoram state government has been issuing identity cards to Chin refugees in Mizoram.
Map indicating the scale of displacement in Myanmar/Burma as a result of the February 1, 2021 coup as well as protracted displacement prior to the coup. Source: UN OCHA Humanitarian Update No. 11
Map indicating scale of displacement in Chin State, Myanmar after the February 1, 2021 military coup as well as protracted displacement prior to the coup. Source: UN OCHA Humanitarian Update No. 11
Human Rights and Religious Freedom in Myanmar/Burma
In late February, the military regime deployed ground troops and launched air and artillery strikes against the Karenni National Defense Force in Kayah state, causing thousands of people to flee.
Approximately 2,000 military regime soldiers have defected from the military and many have joined the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM). A lieutenant colonel defected in late February is is one of the highest ranking officials to join the CDM.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) provides a daily report in regards to the coup. As of February 28, AAPP indicated there have been 1,585 killed, 12,417 arrested, and 1,973 arbitrarily detained since the military coup.
The Thantlang Displacement Affairs Committee informed CAM that the Burmese military based in Thantlang town, Chin State burned 93 buildings in Thantlang on February 25 and 8 buildings on February 27, 2022 totaling 101 buildings. Since September 9, 2021, the Burmese military has burned 1041 buildings which included 8 Christian churches and church-related properties and offices. This is the 26th time the military has set fire to buildings in Thantlang since the coup. The entire population of Thantlang has fled to the Indo-Burma border areas and many have crossed the international border areas seeking refuge in the Mizoram State, India. As of the date of this newsletter, the military has not allowed the UN agencies including UNHCR to travel to Hakha, capital of Chin State, to deliver humanitarian assistance to the displaced persons there.
Churches burnt down included the Thantlang Assemblies of God, the United Pentecostal Church, The Gospel Baptist Church, The Methodist Church, Holiness Church, The Thantlang Centenary Baptist Church, the Thantlang Presbyterian Church, and Church on the Rock.
CAM issued a statement condemning the violence, urging the U.S. government, international communities, and the UN Security Council to put more pressure on the Burmese military.
Photos include Zunghmun Sang, Market Sang, Biakinn Sang and TABC Sang (top); Zunghmun Sang (Sang means block), Market Sang, amd Biakinn Sang (bottom left); and Sianginn Sang (bottom right) Photo Source: TPAC
The United Nations, the United States, and Other International Communities on Myanmar/Burma
One year after the military coup in Myanmar/Burma, President Joe Biden condemned the brutal acts of violence committed by the military against civilians and the “immense suffering across Burma.” “We condemn these outrages and we are working closely with our partners and allies, including in ASEAN, to hold accountable all those responsible for the coup and attacks on civilians.” The President reiterated US support for the people of Myanmar/Burma and their fight for democracy and the US commitment to imposing further costs on the military.
On February 2, 2022,members of the UN Secretary Council repeated their call for support to a transition to democracy in Myanmar/Burma, for a release of those arbitrarily detained, and reiterated their full support for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) role in facilitating a peaceful solution in the interest of the people of Myanmar and their livelihoods. They expressed deep concern for the humanitarian needs and the large numbers of displacement.
On February 2, 2022, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) hosted a panel discussion of experts including State Department Counselor Derek Chollet who serves as undersecretary and senior policy advisor to Secretary of State Antony Blinken. He spoke to the military regime’s gross mismanagement of the country and the dire need for aid. He also reiterated US support for the people of Myanmar/Burma and a path for inclusive democracy. He also laid out the four pillars of the US approach including 1) putting pressure on the regime, 2) supporting the civilian democratic opposition, 3) to ease the humanitarian suffering of the Burmese people, and 4) to work alongside allies and partners in this work. He also discussed US financial support: “So, fourth and finally, we are prioritizing the delivery of assistance to the people of Burma. Since the coup last year, the United States has provided nearly half a billion dollars in aid to vulnerable communities inside Burma, and to those who have fled Burma seeking refuge in other countries. This includes over $24 million in COVID-19 assistance. We’re also working closely with other countries and international partners to provide additional support and ensure access so that assistance reaches people in need without bolstering the regime.”
On February 17, the House Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, Central Asia and Nonproliferation held a meeting on the Burma Crisis, One Year After the Coup and included witnesses Craig Hard, Deputy Assistant Administrator, Bureau for East Asia and the Pacific at USAID and Kin Moy, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, US Department of State. Mr. Hard, in his testimony indicated, “The regime’s actions in part led the World Bank to conclude that the country’s economy contracted by more than 18 percent in 2021, with the UN estimating that the number of people living in poverty could double in 2022, from approximately 25 percent of the population to nearly half of it—or, as many as 27 million people.” Mr. Moy in his testimony stated that in FY2021, “the U.S. government provided more than $434 million in humanitarian assistance for those affected by ongoing violence, including those internally displaced in Burma, refugees from Burma in the region, and communities hosting refugees from Burma.”
The International Court of Justice (IJC) began proceedings on February 21, 2022 to hear the case brought by Gambia against Myanmar alleging that the military’s atrocities against Rohingya Muslims violate the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The case underscores the importance of bringing to justice the military’s violence against the Rohingya and breaking the cycle of violence from the military without impunity. The National Unity Government’s Aung San Suu Kyi led the delegation in 2019. However, due to her detainment, the military junta announced it will appoint eight senior representatives to represent Myanmar/Burma’s delegation at the IJC. The case record can be found here.
On February 21, 2022, the National Unity Government issued a press statement to the IJC stating their legitimacy as the government of Myanmar/Burma, elected by the people, and requested that they take the military’s place at the hearings at the IJC. They requested to name Ambassador to the United Nations, HE U Kyaw Moe Tun, as Agent for the Court, in place of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who remains unjustly detained by the military.
On February 23, 2022, the military junta demanded the IJC drop the case citing that “Gambia was acting as a proxy for others and had no legal standing to file a case.” Gambia responded by urging the IJC to reject Myanmar’s request and to hold Myanmar accountable for genocide.
The ASEAN leaders still agree on the 5-point consensus reached regarding the situation in Myanmar/Burma, including:
There shall be immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar and all parties shall exercise utmost restraint.
Constructive dialogue among all parties concerned shall commence to seek a peaceful solution in the interests of the people.
A special envoy of the ASEAN Chair shall facilitate mediation of the dialogue process, with the assistance of the Secretary General of ASEAN.
ASEAN shall provide humanitarian assistance through the AHA Centre.
The special envoy and delegation shall visit Myanmar to meet with all parties concerned.
In February, USAID released the Burma and Bangladesh – Regional Crisis Response Fact Sheet indicating that the UN indicated their 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) for Myanmar/Burma requires $826 million to target 6.2 million people for humanitarian assistance. This would meet the urgent needs of those internally displaced including essential commodities and humanitarian assistance (i.e., food, water, shelter, winter supplies, medical care, etc.) as well as medical needs related to COVID-19. USAID also noted the challenges in delivering humanitarian assistance including COVID-19-related movement regulations, travel authorization requirements, barriers erected by military authorities, and ongoing insecurity due to active violence.
USAID Fact Sheet #2 – Burma and Bangladesh – Regional Crisis Response indicated the total US government humanitarian funding for Burma and Bangladesh in FY2021 , which includes $434 million. Above is the breakdown of the figures for only Burma ($84,774,734). In addition to this the US government humanitarian funding also includes $349,555,031 for the Burma-Bangladesh regional response. The Burma Act of 2021 includes an additional $220 million in humanitarian assistance for Myanmar/Burma if passed. Above is the list of humanitarian actors the money will go to including many organizations with Chin members and employees such as the IRC, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, the Norwegian Refugee Council, and the WFP.
CAM’s Advocacy Activities
On February 14, 2022 CAM Executive Director and Community Outreach Coordinator met with Maryland State Senator Clarence K. Lam to discuss the importance of bill “SB304 Asian American History Curriculum.” Sen. Lam, sponsor of the bill, pledged to support the bill and advocate for it to pass.In February, CAM Executive Director Zo Tum Hmung spoke at numerous events including at the 74th Chin National Day celebrations in Charlotte, North Carolina on February 19 and in Omaha City, Nebraska on February 20. The Chin New Year celebration originated in 1948 and is celebrated annually on February 20. CAM Executive Director conducted advocacy training to Chin communities during his travels.
In Charlotte, North Carolina Director Zo Tum Hmung delivered the keynote speech for Chin National Day. He urged the Chin people to support the struggle in Burma. Change should come from inside, he said. Mr. Hmung also stressed that advocating for the support of the US is crucial to stopping the military’s atrocities. He further said we should fight the military from every front. He reminded the church leaders that since the Burmese military burned churches in Thantlang, the struggle against Min Aung Hlaing-led military is also the fight for religious freedom. Mr. Hmung concluded his remarks by reiterating the importance of unity among the Chins and everyone in the fight against the military. He spoke in Hakha dialect and his speech was interpreted into English and Burmese.
CAM Executive Director Zo Tum Hmung also spoke at the 74th Chin National Day celebration in Omaha City, Nebraska on February 20th. Mr. Hmung started by giving respect and honor to Pu Vuam Thu Maung, who was the leader of the Chin Affairs Council and also from Mindat, Chin State. The first celebration Chin National Day was held in Mindat. Mr. Hmung also showed his deep respect to the Chin Defense Force – Mindat, that had started to fearlessly fight the Burma military. He reminded them that change should come from inside, and we should support the people inside Burma. He also reiterated the importance of advocating for the support of the US to stop the Tatmadaw’s atrocities against the people of Burma, especially the burning of houses and churches in Thantlang, Chin State. He also thanked Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska who welcomed CAM to his DC office recently. Mr. Hmung felt at home in Nebraska because the first missionary to Chin State, Laura Carson, was born in NEBRASKA. He hopes that the people of Nebraska will help the efforts in promoting democracy, human rights, and religious freedom.
On February 22, 2022 CAM Executive Director Zo Tum Hmung facilitated a meeting with Kari Ridder, State Policy Director for the Office of U.S. Senator Ben Sasse in Omaha. The attendees included church leaders and Chin youth. Rev. Dr. Robin Stoops, Executive Minister of the American Baptist Churches of Nebraska, was at the meeting. He has visited Chin State in the past. Rev. Ngun Lian Bawi and Pastor Hla Aung also joined the meeting. Ms. Kari Ridder warmly welcomed us.
On February 23, 2022 CAM Executive Director Zo Tum Hmung and Chin pastors and community members from Kansas City met with Ambassador Sam Brownback in Topeka, Kansas. Mr. Hmung briefed Amb. Brownback on how the Burmese military burned nearly 1,000 houses including several churches in Thantlang town, Chin State. Chin pastors also shared the suffering of the displaced Chins in the border areas. They also discussed the International Religious Freedom Summit in June 2022 in Washington, DC. Rev. Dr. Robin Stoops and Rev. Dr. Gregg Hemmen, Executive Minister of the American Baptist Churches of the Central Region, joined the meeting.
Join CAM in our Advocacy Activities!
Join CAM’s efforts in advocacy by writing a letter to your congressman/woman and ask them to write a letter to Secretary Blinken and USAID Administrator Samantha Power urging the following: 1. To put pressure on the Burmese military a) to allow the UN agencies including UNHCR to go to Chin State to deliver humanitarian assistance to the internally displaced persons in Chin State, Burma, especially in Thantlang townships. We learned that UNHCR has sought a travel authorization from the military to travel to Chin State, but the military has not granted it.
b) to permit the UN agencies to establish offices in Chin State immediately, especially UNHCR in Hakha, the capital of Chin State.
c) to halt the inhuman acts and also hold accountable the military who committed crimes.
2. To engage India to allow UNHCR in New Delhi to register over 20,000 newly arrived Chin refugees in Mizoram State, India and also to deliver aid to both the refugees and the local communities that are welcoming them.
The Burma Act of 2021
CAM continues its advocacy in support for the Burma Act of 2021 and suggested various amendments including the principal of federalism as an amendment to the bill. To learn more about CAM’s advocacy related to this bill, please click here. The Burma Act was introduced in the Senate (S.2937) and the House (H.R.5497) on October 5, 2021. In the Senate, it was sponsored by Senator Ben Cardin and co-sponsored by 1 independent and 22 democrat Senators. In the House, the bill was sponsored by Gregory Meeks and co-sponsored by 57 democrat and 16 republican representatives.Join CAM’s efforts in advocacy by writing a letter to your congressman/woman asking them to sponsor the Burma Act of 2021 as amended:
Please support the BURMA Act of 2021 by becoming a co-sponsor to the bill. This would help restore the democratically elected government of Burma. It would establish an inclusive political dialogue in Burma, which would be a step toward establishing a federal democratic union.
Please also consider the following amendments to make the Burma Act of 2021 more relevant to the current situation on the ground in Burma:
1- Establish A Federal Democratic Union of Burma
It is important that the Act mention “federal democratic union,” not just democracy. The political crisis in the union of Burma is not only about promoting democracy or human rights. For over a half a century, the Burmese military regimes have been persecuting the ethnic nationalities and the religious minorities. Resolving the political crisis in Burma is about respecting minority rights and autonomy. That is what the ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) have been fighting for all these years. A “federal democratic union” would help ensure those rights are safeguarded. NUG’s duties include “establishing a federal democratic union” (see building a federal democratic union” under the Duties of NUG ( https://gov.nugmyanmar.org/about-nug/).
It is important that the bill restores civilian governance and ensures strong oversight over the military, but it should also mention the importance of establishing a federal democratic union that safeguards full autonomy for the internal administration of states or regions.
2- Abolish the 2008 Constitution
The Act should clearly mention abolishing the 2008 Constitution rather than reforming it (see NUG’s duties to abolish the 2008 Constitution). The ethnic political organizations and ethnic armed organizations have the same goal to abolish it.
3- Do Not Advocate for a Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement
The Act should also not advocate for the implementation of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA). It ceased being a just and viable instrument for maintaining peace when the military illegally took power on February 1, 2021. If included in the Act, many ethnic political organizations and ethnic armed organizations will strongly oppose it. The Act should instead advocate an inclusive peace process that would lead to establishing a federal democratic union.
4- Include engagement with Malaysia and India
Both Malaysia and India should be included in the bill because they both have a large stake in the return of refugees. According to UNHCR in Malaysia, there are 154,860 refugees from Burma, of which 102,990 are Rohingyas (https://www.unhcr.org/en-us/figures-at-a-glance-in-malaysia.html, CAM’s Report, September 2020: https://chinmd.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Chin-Refugees-Final-Oct-8-2020.pdf). According to the Mizoram State government, since February 1, an estimated 20,000 Chins have fled to Mizoram seeking refuge. New Delhi has about 3,000 refugees. Besides hosting a large number of refugees Malaysia is an influential political and economic nation in the region. India likewise is very influential, as a Quad member, and the world’s largest democracy. Both countries can and should play a big role to put pressure on the military regime in Burma to change its behavior.
5- Provide Karenni State and Mon State with humanitarian assistance
The Act should provide Karenni State (also known as Kayah State) and Mon State with access to humanitarian assistance from UN Agencies and the international community. After the February coup, Karennis have been severely targeted by the military, creating over 82,000 new internally displaced persons. Also, at least eight Catholic churches in Karenni State have been destroyed by the military.
To learn more ways to advocate with CAM, click here.
The Chin Association of Maryland, Inc. (CAM) is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization based in Ellicott City, Maryland. CAM empowers the Chin communities in Maryland to be successfully integrated into American society. CAM also advocates for durable solutions for Chin and other refugees and internally displaced persons, and religious freedom and human rights in Burma.
Chins, virtually all of whom are Christians, are an ethnic nationality from Burma. They became Christians primarily due to the missionary efforts of the American Baptist Churches USA. They are a major recent U.S. refugee group that fled from Burma to neighboring countries to escape ethnic, political and religious persecution by the Burmese military since 1962. In 2001, about 1000 Chin asylees came to the U.S through Guam, resettling largely in Maryland, Indiana, Florida, and Texas. Since 2002, the U.S. has resettled many more Chin refugees coming through Malaysia and India. Chins now number 70,000 across the United States, with about 5,000 making Maryland their home.