Myanmar’s military junta no longer wants displaced people
by Alessandra De Poli

Displaced people have a month to "relocate" and find accommodations. Reception facilities can no longer admit displaced people. The UN notes that over a million people have been displaced. Those who engaged in civil disobedience cannot be hired under penalty of arrest. “Depression, addictions, and trauma are on the rise among the young and very young,” sources tell AsiaNews.

Yangon (AsiaNews) – More than a million people have been displaced in Myanmar, according to the latest report by the United Nations Office for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). But for the military junta that seized power in February 2021, plunging the country into civil war, the notion of "internally displaced persons" must vanish.

Myanmar’s military have given civilians a month to relocate, especially those who have taken refuge in Sagaing, a central region with an ethnic Burmese majority.

In practical terms, this means finding a home and an occupation and getting on with one's life as if there were not a brutal fighting in the country, now taking place everywhere, even in states that until a few months ago had been spared, like Rakhine.

This also means that those who offered hospitality to refugees can no longer do so. Inspections by the army have increased. Soldiers show up even in the middle of the night, pointing their rifle at civilians, including children, to check that the number of people in a house corresponds to that on the resident lists, sources told AsiaNews.

United Nations agencies have been banned from bringing aid with the burden of helping people falling on local groups that are increasingly struggling to operate.  It is forbidden to transport food, medicines, mattresses, sheet metal roofs – anything that suggests humanitarian aid – on pain of immediate arrest.

"We can't order painkillers, not even acetaminophen, from suppliers because soldiers open packages at checkpoints and seize medicines," a pharmacist said.

Those fleeing from the army have taken refuge in the forests (churches and monasteries are no longer safe) where they risk dying from snake bites since anti-poison drugs are no longer available. Since June, at least four people have died this way in Sagaing.

Now, as the dry season begins, fighting will be easier because of improved visibility and no mud on the streets. Troops and weapons can move more effortlessly, so the conflict is expected to intensify in the coming months.

“This happened last year and it will happen again, there is no doubt," a source explains.

The exiled National Unity Government (NUG), made up former lawmakers, recently said that the People's Defence Forces (the anti-junta forces fighting in cooperation with ethnic militias in various states) will launch a final offensive and within a year the war will be over. However, no one among the  civilian population believes, nor does anyone involved in the fighting.

Two groups of people are most affected by the conflict, namely young people and those who took part in the civil disobedience movement immediately after the coup.

Among the first, three subgroups can be identified: those in the militias, those who try to leave the country, and "those who get by".

School dropout is very high, as high as 80 per cent according to some. At least,”60 per cent of students have not returned to school", sources say.

Drug addiction has increased because "there is nothing to do. Some fight because they believe in democratic ideals but many do it only to kill someone. Depression, addictions, and trauma are increasingly widespread."

The younger generation probably least expected a return to a military regime after a decade of democratic overtures. They are the ones who took to the streets immediately after the coup to protest peacefully:

After the first shot, those who had lived under the dictatorship in the past understood that things would get worse quickly and that the military would try to take control of the country.

General Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar’s self-proclaimed prime minister, "is the worst dictator Myanmar has ever had." For the rhetoric he uses and for the violence he has unleashed.

Those who took part in the civil disobedience movement now find themselves with nothing. “Most of them are on file and cannot be hired, under penalty of arrest for the employer. It is not out of wickedness, just fear of retaliation."

The only hope is the fact that the army might be hard-pressed to fight on several fronts, but "while China has understood this and does not want to meddle in this conflict because it has nothing to gain,” Russia continues to support the military regime.

“The Resistance is fighting with flip-flops. In some areas they are very strong but the various groups are also divided among themselves.”

Many wonder that even if the conflict were to end, would ethnic militias be able to agree and build a new Myanmar? They have been fighting against the government since independence in 1948 and it might take a few more years before we find out.