Nearly 100,000 internally displaced ethnic Chins in western Myanmar have called for help from civil society groups to avoid allowing the military junta to control distribution of humanitarian aid from Southeast Asian countries, saying their strife-torn region is not receiving assistance.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) — a regional grouping that aims to promote economic and security cooperation among its 10 member states, including Myanmar — announced on Sunday that it would work with the military regime to distribute humanitarian aid to Myanmar.
The number of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Myanmar topped 1 million as of May 30 amid fighting and armed clashes across the country since the February 2021 military coup overthrew the democratically elected government, triggering civilian displacement and a humanitarian crisis, according to the U.N.’s refugee agency (UNHCR).
Residents of Chin state have been strong opponents of the military since the takeover, turning the 36,000-square-kilometer (13,900-square-mile) territory into a battlefield. Nearly 90,000 local residents have been forced by the fighting to flee the area.
In Chin state and Magway and Sagaing regions in Myanmar’s northwest, indiscriminate attacks by junta forces against civilians have resulted in numerous deaths and casualties, the torching of homes and villages, house searches, arbitrary arrests and detentions, UNHCR said.
Restrictions on movement and transportation has led to shortages of food and goods in among IDPs and host communities in the region, the U.N. agency said.
ASEAN’s promised aid will bypass ethnic Chin IDPs, according to the interim Chin National Consultative Council, Chin state’s leading political group, and the national Unity Government (NUG), the government in exile formed elected lawmakers and members of parliament ousted in the coup.
ASEAN will provide assistance to Kayah and Kayin states, as well as to Magway, Sagaing and Bago regions, allowing a military junta-led task force to make decisions on how aid is delivered through the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management, said Salai Isaac Khin, chairman of the Interim Chin National Consultative Council (ICNCC).
“We wonder if they had ignored us because they didn’t know the ground conditions,” he told RFA. “What’s the meaning of this? This is questionable. It’s like the people of Chin state, the most vulnerable people, have had their rights ignored.”
‘We’re so disappointed’
The states and regions that will receive the humanitarian aid have 50,000 IDPs due to post-coup fighting and violence, about 45% of the number of displaced people in Chin state, said the ICNCC and the NUG in a statement issued Sunday. Furthermore, over 30,000 IDPs from Chin state have fled over the border into India.
RFA called ASEAN’s office in Yangon to ask why Chin IDPs were not included in the aid program, but no one responded.
A spokesman for the Chin State Joint Defense Committee (CJDC) said it was disappointing that the state is being excluded from receiving ASEAN humanitarian assistance.
“Almost the entire town of Thantlang in Chin state was burned down during the fighting,” he said. “In Falam, about 93 houses were turned into ashes. Thirty percent of the Chin people are war refugees. We’re so disappointed that our people have been left out of the ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance Program. It isn’t fair. We strongly oppose that this entire aid program is coming through the junta.”
An aid worker assisting the Chin IDPs, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said ongoing fighting has made it difficult to travel between Thantlang and Hakha, and food and medical aid are badly needed.
“Chin state is a mountainous region, and it’s very difficult to bring rice from the mainland,” he said.
“We want to ask ASEAN whether it has ignored us because it doesn’t think that Chin state is involved in Myanmar politics,” the aid worker added. “Another thing is that ASEAN should meet and work with NGOs and international NGOs instead of with the junta.”
Salai Charlie, who helps Chin refugees in Mizoram, India, told RFA that Christian groups and NGOs in India provided initial assistance to those fleeing the fighting but now have stopped.
“Currently we are not receiving foreign aid,” he told RFA. “The Mizoram government is not helping us. The church in Mizoram, the NGOs and the wealthy in Mizoram have donated everything they could to help us. No one is helping us anymore. The rains have come, and we cannot work.”
RFA could not reach junta spokesman, Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun, for comment.
Translated by Khin Maung Nyane for RFA Burmese. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.