Escalating Humanitarian Crisis as IDPs Surge in Karen State

Myanmar Spring Chronicle – January 19 by MoeMaKa Media:

Escalating Humanitarian Crisis as IDPs Surge in Karen State

In a grim revelation, the Karen National Union (KNU) announced that the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Karen State has reached a staggering 700,000 over the past three years. The surge in IDPs is concentrated in the seven districts administered by the KNU, encompassing areas where the Karen people reside. These displaced individuals have sought refuge in various locations such as forests, mountains, cities, villages, and neighboring countries, fleeing the ravages of war. Notably, Nyaunglebin District (Brigade 3 Area) under KNU’s jurisdiction reported the highest number, with nearly 250,000 IDPs, followed by Dooplaya District (Brigade 6 Area) with almost 150,000 IDPs. Other affected areas include Thaton District, Mutraw District, and more, spanning administrative regions such as Karen State, Bago Division, and Mon State.

With an estimated Karen population in Myanmar of around 3.6 million, the alarming figure of 700,000 IDPs signifies that approximately one-fifth of the Karen population is grappling with the harsh realities of displacement. The period following the Union-level ceasefire in 2012 had witnessed almost a decade of relative peace, during which the KNU and civil society organizations focused on community development, raising living standards, and improving education and social conditions. However, the military coup in 2021 undid these progressions, triggering a wave of displacement affecting hundreds of thousands of lives.

Residents are confronted with the dire situation of abandoning their homes, losing lives, and relinquishing properties. Notably, there are hundreds of thousands of youths of student age unable to pursue education due to the exigencies of war.

In recent months, the United Nations has reported over 2.5 million war refugees across Myanmar, with the Karen people constituting a quarter of this staggering total. A KNU leader acknowledged the imperative for the organization, currently in conflict with the military council, to address the challenges arising from the displacement of war refugees. Simultaneously, the military council perceives local residents and villages as supporters of the enemy, resulting in destructive actions, aerial assaults, and heavy weaponry targeting both enemy troops and inhabited villages. This strategy appears geared toward amplifying the impact of the conflict.

While KNU shoulders the responsibility of ensuring security and providing emergency food aid during military attacks, international assistance agencies, including the United Nations, face restrictions in freely delivering aid to refugees. Despite the inclusion of permission for humanitarian assistance in the Five Point Consensus of ASEAN agreed upon in 2021, such aid has been disallowed over the past three years. Notably, the military council imposed a blockade of unprecedented severity in the armed conflict in Rakhine State that commenced last November, restricting the importation of essential food, consumer goods, fuel, and medicine in response to the armed attack.

As the second week of 2024 unfolds, a somber outlook emerges, indicating the likelihood of more widespread conflict. The military council may attempt to reclaim cities in northern Shan State, or ethnic armed groups may intensify efforts to capture the remaining cities in the region. Escalating armed conflicts could extend not only to northern Shan State but also to southern Shan State. In the Karenni region, the potential capture of Loikaw by the KNDF and KNPP, in addition to Pekhon and Mobye, may trigger further attacks on related areas. The protracted strife in Rakhine is anticipated to persist, with armed conflicts in Chin State and Kachin State likely to escalate.

In summation, 2024 is poised to be a year marked by the expansion of conflict, a gradual narrowing of the area under the military council’s control, heightened damage to cities and villages, and an increase in the number of war refugees. Additionally, in the Sagaing and Magway regions, where local Burmans reside, the military council forces are relentlessly attacking and causing casualties, employing strategies to impede the organization of local armed forces.

Stay tuned for further updates.

Myanmar Spring Chronicle – Reporting the Unfolding Realities