Burma’s return to military rule by coup has seen more than 800,000 people displaced by widespread human rights abuses, a deadly ‘cut-off policy’ used against civilians, and one of the world’s most overlooked humanitarian crises spill out over international borders. Civil society and local relief networks are battling against the interlocking challenges of conflict,
Covid-19, and military restrictions on aid. Among them are Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART)’s partners at the Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN). SWAN operate on the frontlines of emergency relief in Shan state, along the Thai-Burma border, and in Thailand, where thousands of people are seeking refuge from military campaigns and a new escalation in armed conflicts. Through lifesaving aid, education, healthcare provision, and legal support for women and children in emergency situations, SWAN’s programmes offer a lifeline to minority communities in one of the most isolated regions of Burma.
On 1 February 2021, Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART) and our in-country partners at the Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN) watched as Burmese military forces seized power from the National League for Democracy1 and raised fears of another conflict in Burma.
Subsequent peaceful protests were met with brutality from security forces and an internet blackout to hide military atrocities from the world’s media. Furthermore, in efforts to suppress the pro-democracy movement, the military adopted a cut-off policy that obstructed essential supplies and lifesaving aid from reaching civilians across the country. HART joined other UK-based aid organisations in calling for the transfer of immediate humanitarian assistance, including unimpeded cross-border access to minority communities and internally displaced peoples (IDPs) in Burma’s ethnic states. Twenty months on, the international community has failed to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in Burma: the inaction of governments around the world has left local actors abandoned, forcing them to respond without the necessary support, resources and security needed to manage a crisis of this scale.
As Burma experiences another violent episode in its decades-long struggle for freedom, its ethnic states are suffering doubly from armed conflicts and legacies of systemic oppression.
While the UK Government recently announced its intention to intervene in the Rohingya genocide case2 before the International Court of Justice, it continues to ignore calls for help from north-eastern Burma and other ethnic states undergoing military offensives. SWAN is one of few cross-border networks offering a lifeline to safety for Shan IDPs and refugees. Now, the fallout from the military coup has placed even greater pressure on their emergency relief programmes and has forced operations to adapt to new security risks. As demands on relief networks like SWAN grow amid mass trauma and displacement, the international community must address the needs of IDPs in Burma. This includes transferring immediate humanitarian assistance and cross-border aid, as well as ensuring the right to protection for ethnic groups and NGOs working with them.
HART works with local partners in Shan, Chin, and Karen states, who believe that Burma’s formal name, Myanmar, which was introduced by the military government3 in 1989, represents state-sponsored policies of ethnic violence against minority groups. HART staff, alongside our in-country partners, refer to the country as Burma. The names of SWAN colleagues, as well as refugees who told us stories of their continuing search for safety, have been withheld for security reasons and to protect the anonymity of those we interviewed. All photos have been shared with the consent of SWAN and those with whom they work.
Source: Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust