President Thein Sein of Burma is visiting Barack Obama in Washington this week. He is the first Burmese head of state to visit the USA in over 47 years, yet his visit has roused protests outside the White House and beyond. Human Rights campaigners feel that, considering the negative state of human rights throughout Burma, the visit is too premature.
In some ways this trip reflects the evolution of some positive changes in Burma, but although there are fragile ceasefires, the release of many political prisoners and a representation of the National League for Democracy in the parliament, there is a very long way to go if Burma is to establish real reform.
The Irrawaddy states that, ahead of this White House visit, many ethnic leaders in Burma have expressed anger about how the United States are not doing enough to support a proper peace process. The Guardian has described the disappointment that many groups have felt at President Obama’s use of the title ‘Myanmar’, instead of Burma, in his statements during the visit. This is a name that has been previously avoided as it is used by the military junta and not inclusive of all the country's ethnic groupings.
Many repressive laws in Burma remain unchallenged and serious human rights abuses continue unabated throughout the country. Military offenses against the people of Kachin State have displaced 100,000 civilians and burned down over 200 villages. Children on the Edge have provided essential aid for these displaced children living in temporary camps and are fundraising to provide crucial early childhood development support for children in 12 camps.
The Rohingya who have lived in Arakan State, Burma for generations are still labelled by the government as ‘illegal Bengali immigrants’. They are persecuted and abused by the authorities and the communities around them, and have become the most marginalised group in the world. In the same week that Thein Sein left to visit President Obama, authorities in Arakan State created a two child only policy for the Rohingya people.
We have been working with this people group for the last three years in Bangladesh, where thousands of Rohingya have fled and are living in makeshift camps. Here, they are not recognised as refugees and have no chance of help for their children. We are currently providing education to 1,800 children in makeshift refugee camps and are looking to expand to meet the increasing need.
This article in the New York Times, co-authored by Benedict Rogers of CSW, provides an excellent overview of the situation in Burma and the international response.
Read more about our projects with the Kachin and Rohingya people of Burma, and please consider donating.
Rohingya makeshift refugee camp in Bangladesh
The news yesterday reported how the EU has lifted sanctions on Burma. On the same day Human Rights Watch released a new report ‘All You Can Do is Pray’
, which provides evidence of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity regarding the Rohingya people living here. The report highlights government collusion with this violence and their unwillingness to take effective action to prevent it.
In April 2012, EU foreign ministers suspended all sanctions on Burma for one year, with the exception of its arms embargo, and outlined benchmarks to gauge progress to guide a future decision on lifting sanctions.
These benchmarks included:
- the release of all remaining political prisoners;
- the end of conflict, particularly in Kachin State;
- improved access for humanitarian assistance throughout the country;
- increased assistance and improved treatment of ethnic Rohingya Muslims.
None of these benchmarks have been met, yet the EU has chosen to lift sanctions thus greatly diminishing its leverage with the Burmese Government to be able to bring positive changes. In the words of Human Rights Watch “The EU’s scrapping of targeted sanctions on Burma is premature and recklessly imperils human rights gains made so far.”
Throughout March, Burma Campaign UK has reported a series of violent riots and attacks against Muslims, serious human rights violations and Burma Army attacks in Shan State displacing 1,000 villagers. All these have been occurring in the same month that President Thein Sein has completed a tour of Europe, reassuring government officials and press that there is ‘no more fighting all over the country’
The President also confirmed he has no intention of revising the 1982 Citizenship Act which bolsters the ongoing government campaign of “ethnic cleansing” against the Rohingya minority in Arakan State. Human Rights Watch details in their current report that this has caused the displacement of over 125,000 people.
Many Rohingya have fled Burma to the neighbouring country of Bangladesh where they are not welcome and forced into makeshift camps with little or no help. Children on the Edge works in one such camp providing education for 1,800 Rohingya children. We have also provided aid to displaced communities suffering through this year's conflict in Kachin State and are researching how we can further assist the children in these camps.
Find out more about our work in Burma
, and please consider a donation
at this difficult time.
We reported a few weeks back on our research in Kachin State, Burma. The article highlighted the problems involved in getting aid to displaced communities along the China-Burma border, as conflict escalated between the Kachin people and the central government military.
John Littleton, our Asia Regional Manager has recently returned from this area where he spoke with representatives from the camps. He concluded that despite the fact the political situation in Kachin State is highly complex, that the humanitarian issue is simple. Sufficient aid is not getting through to those civillians who are caught up in the conflict and who need it most.
Since then we have received a list of essential supplies needed by the camps, acquired funding and found an aid route through. We will be providing warm clothes, strategic nutrition and toys for the displaced children in the camps.
Although play equipment may seem like a luxury item in these circumstances, it is essential for the emotional wellbeing of children caught up in conflict. Children in Kachin State have their identity entwined very closely with the war around them. They are constantly playing guns and bombs, not because of the influence of a television set, but from what they are actually seeing around them on a daily basis. Simple play equipment is essential for creating childhood games and imaginary realities that promote a healthy psychological wellbeing for a child living through conflict.
A second visit is planned later in the Spring to assess longer term needs.
Find out more about our work with refugees and internally displaced people from Burma, and consider donating to our work.
Photo via The Irrawaddy
Kachin State is the northernmost state of Burma and is bordered by China to the north and east. Historical tensions between the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) and the Burmese Government have recently intensified, placing civilians at huge risk.
A 17-year ceasefire was broken by Burmese troops in June 2011 and since then conflicts have taken thousands of lives and forced over 100,000 Kachin people from their homes. Much of the fighting has happened in areas rich in natural resources, and stretches of land where large infrastructure projects are taking place.
President Thein Sein’s administration insists that it wants a ceasefire and political discussion, yet over Christmas the government troops started to use heavy artillery, jets and helicopter gunships. Heavy shelling attacks near civilians are now a daily occurrence. Displaced people in the crowded camps are not only terrified, but cut off from aid.
Since the atrocities stepped up in June, Children on the Edge have been researching the situation in Kachin State and talking with local groups to find a way of getting aid to displaced children on the borders near China. With attacks escalating over Christmas, John Littleton, our Asia Regional Manager has brought forward his trip to Kachin State in order to talk with local communities before the situation worsens further. This last week based from the town of Laiza, he has witnessed intensifying conflict including Government jet fighters and helicopters firing on civilian populations. Laiza has become a ghost town with people fleeing for their lives and mortars landing 2km outside of town.
The UN conservatively estimates that more than 10,000 internally displaced people are not receiving sufficient, regular humanitarian assistance. Aid is being restricted to all KIO controlled areas by the Burmese government, so this fact finding mission aims to find a way for Children on the Edge to work under the radar to get aid to displaced communities through our connection with grassroots local partners.
For a recent report on the increased attacks see BBC footage
from the conflict zone
in Kachin State. For further information about our current work with refugee children from Burma, visit our project pages
A charity football tournament organised as part of Atkins graduate corporate responsibility initiative raised over £670 for our projects supporting refugee children from Burma in Bangladesh, Thailand and on the borders of Burma itself.
The Charity Super Cup football tournament took place at the Jebel Ali Shooting Club, Centre of Excellence in Dubai. With a great atmosphere and more than 80 players playing 21 matches, a good time was had by all and all the players took a real interest in the cause.
Seven of the participating teams were from Atkins, with others coming from Buro Happold, IBM and Petrofac. The Super Cup and gold medal winner was the ‘Chamakh My Pitch Up’ team, with the silver medal being picked up by ‘Atkins Regulars’ and the bronze medal going to ‘Waylanders’ from IBM.
“We tried to get as many teams as we could to participate in order to raise as much money as possible for the cause,” says organiser Elie Choufani. “With the risk of an entire generation of children in refugee camps growing up unable to read or write, providing education becomes as essential as providing nutrition. As an engineer, I felt that our efforts to provide sustainable design through our work could also extend to providing social sustainability through charity work, by helping the less fortunate to learn and develop.”
On receiving the funds, John Littleton, our Asia Regional Manager said: “This money raised can cover the cost of a full class of 25 pupils for a year's education in the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. Every dirham counts.”
We’d like to say a huge thank you to Atkins and especially Elie for organising this brilliant event. We’d also like to thank all the volunteers and players involved.
Find out more about our work
with refugee children from Burma and if you think your workplace would be interested in raising money for our projects, please do get in touch
Throughout this year the British government and media have been focussing on the positive changes occurring in Burma. The government also agreed to the suspension of EU sanctions despite none of the benchmarks originally set being fulfilled. These included the unconditional release of all political prisoners, the end of violence in ethnic states, and allowing humanitarian aid to be delivered without hindrance in ethnic states.
The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office published its Human Rights and Democracy report for 2011
on July 10th. Despite some welcome reforms, the paper describes continuing (and in some ethnic states, worsening) human rights abuses in Burma, including villages been razed to the ground, torture, rape, and the continued use of child soldiers.
Currently on the Thai-Burma border there is increased government discussion regarding Karen refugees being sent back home. Thailand’s National Security Council said last week that refugees from Burma who have been sheltering on Thai soil for more than two decades could return within a year.
Despite this statement, and the growing representation in the media that as things are ‘improving’ in Burma, the situation on the ground remains precarious. Ceasefires are still fragile and do not yet include an enforceable code of conduct; troops still reside in local villages, and although the security council claims to be clearing them, the ground is still littered with land mines. A spokeswoman from the Karen Community Based Organisations
(KCBO’s) stated that “We hope that we can go home one day soon, but it is just not possible under the current conditions in Karen areas.”
This is especially poignant for the children at our Children's Crisis Centre
in Thailand, the majority of whom are Karen refugees, and also those at our Nursery Schools
inside Burma. While the situation in Karen state remains unstable a report recently published by Human Rights Watch details the difficult plight of Burmese refugees in Thailand. Ad Hoc and Inadequate: Thailand’s Treatment of Refugees and Asylum Seekers
describes how “Thailand presents Burmese refugees with the unfair choice of stagnating for years in remote refugee camps or living and working outside the camps without protection from arrest and deportation”.
To be separated from parents in this environment is extremely dangerous for refugee children, leaving them vulnerable to abuse, trafficking and exploitation. Our Crisis Centre gives 72 children support, shelter, education and nutrition until a time when they can be re-united with family. For the Karen child refugees in the Ei Htu Hta refugee camp, there is a high risk of malnutrition. Our Nursery Schools give not only vital early years education, but a nutritious meal each day to 300 displaced children under 5 years of age.
We welcome news of positive reforms, but acknowledge that there is still a long way to go before Karen State is stable enough to provide a safe homecoming for these people. Until such a time, our projects in this area will continue to enable children enduring these circumstances to find a place of safety, where their needs can be met, their potential kindled and their sense of childhood protected.
Find out more about our Children’s Crisis Centre
on the Thai-Burma border, our Nursery Schools
in Karen State Burma and consider donating
to our work.
Children on the Edge welcome Aung San Suu Kyi’s arrival in the UK and her much awaited address to parliament on the 21st June, her 67th birthday. Ms Suu Kyi is the first person who is not a Head of State to address parliament. Over the years she has become an international symbol of peaceful resistance having spent the last two decades under house arrest because of her commitment to bringing democracy to Burma. Last week she was able to officially receive the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, which she was awarded in 1991 but unable to collect in person due to her detention.
There has been much in the media of late regarding some positive moves towards democracy in Burma, and the fact that Aung San Suu Kyi is able to visit Europe in itself is a reflection of these changes. However Ms Suu Kyi has clearly stated that "Some are a little bit too optimistic about the situation. We are cautiously optimistic. We are at the beginning of a road
Reports coming in over the last few months evidence all too harshly the long road ahead for Burma. The Karen Women’s Organisation partner with us in providing nurseries for 300 displaced children on the borders of Burma. In their World Refugee Day statement today they described how “Although there is a lot of media attention on the current Peace Process in Burma there is little change on the ground for the ethnic peoples. In fact, we have seen more human rights violations, land confiscations, increased Burmese military presence, forced labor, killing and continued fighting in some areas. It is not safe for refugees to return to Burma
Kachin State has also experienced a disturbing increase in human rights abuses in recent months, despite the ‘good press’ in the world media. Free Burma Rangers report that there is no ceasefire in these areas with a remaining 110 Burma army battalions shooting civiliians, using chemical munitions, burning down homes and shelling villages.
Reports have poured in as the military continue to torture civilians, force labour and use rape as a weapon of war. Ben Rogers of Christian Solidarity Worldwide says “There is an urgent need for substantial reform or repeal of repressive legislation, significant constitutional reform and the development of the rule of law”
. He says that Ms Suu Kyi’s visit is “historic and very welcome, but it marks a potential turning-point, rather than a conclusion, to her country’s many decades of struggle for freedom and peace
Hardships and abuses for ethnic peoples are also on the increase in Arakan (Rakhine) State where the Rohingya people continue to be persecuted. At present the World Food Programme estimates there are about 90,000 displaced people in need of assistance as a result of the recent religious and ethnic clashes
. As they flood over the borders to Bangladesh the refugees are continually pushed back, as a report from Human Rights Watch
highlighted today. Children on the Edge have been working with the Rohingya on the borders of Bangladesh for the last year, providing education to over 900 children in the makeshift camps. As persecution increases this work is more vital than ever.
As Aung Sung Suu Kyi makes a historic address to both Houses of Parliament this week, and in the light recent cuts to refugees on the borders of Burma and to internally displaced people, we urge you to consider her appeal from the Nobel Peace Prize speech
. She says “Can we afford to indulge in compassion fatigue? Is the cost of meeting the needs of refugees greater than the cost that would be consequent on turning an indifferent, if not a blind, eye on their suffering? I appeal to donors the world over to fulfill the needs of these people who are in search, often it must seem to them a vain search, of refuge
Please read more
about our work on the Bangladeshi and Thai borders of Burma and donate
to our work.
Back in October we posted up a photo of a pile of wood waiting be transformed into a primary school for a small Chin community in Burma. At this time the children had no chance of getting an education. We are happy to report that the school is now built and open for classes!
The school was due to be opening in November but a delay in harvest meant that all the villagers were tied up working in the fields throughout most of that month. Now the school is built they have held a community celebration and got started on their learning.
Cheery Zahau, our representative in Burma says “All the villagers and those in the nearby villages are so grateful as they can send their children to the school too. Next they would love to raise money for high school teachers”.
This Chin community in this tiny village in Burma have been the target of persecution and oppression for many years from the Burmese military regime.
The village is situated just 3 miles from an area where one of the main Burma Army Battalions are posted. These soldiers force tax, labour and food from the villagers and consequently many people have left the village.
Despite years of campaigning for a road to be built, there is no transportation out of the village so before this school was built the children remaining in Tilum had no way of getting to schools further afield. The new primary school has four teachers and provides education for 84 children.
Please find out more about our work with the Chin people
of Burma or donate
to our projects.
The news of the release of political prisoners in Burma on 13th January came a day after the announcement of a ceasefire with the Karen ethnic group. The international media have been praising Thein Sein for these steps and many of our supporters have been asking us whether these changes will have an impact on our work with displaced children both within and on the borders of Burma.
While Children on the Edge welcome these steps towards democracy, the reports on the ground until recently have been showing that ethnic cleansing has actually increased. Our director Rachel Bentley says “Burma is not a democracy yet, it’s more of a possibility than it’s ever been, but these are just small steps towards change. Our hope is that the recent ceasefire agreements with various ethnic groups will hold, but only time will tell”.
Representative of the Karen National Union, Bwa Bwa Phan has described how the number of people forced to flee their homes has doubled in the past year from around 70,000 to almost 150,00. The use of rape, even against children by the Burmese army has increased. She also tells stories of unarmed villagers being exectuted, schools mortar bombed and aid being blocked to the internally displaced.
At a presentation in London, Jack Dunford of the Thai Burma Border Consortium described how the media coverage of the recent moves by the government is actually having an adverse affect on the refugee community from Burma. Seeing the news headlines, donors are making the assumption that the troubles are over, and that displaced peoples can return to a peaceful and democratic homeland. Consequently financial contributions are falling.
So it is this situation that the children we work with are living in, not a situation that is on the cusp of being resolved. Even if and when there is genuine political change and significant moves towards peace, we will be investing our efforts into the returning refugee community who form such a fundamental part of the fabric of Burma. We will support them to rebuild their lives, homes and communities.
Please find out more about our projects
for children in Burma as well as those that have fled to Thailand, India, Bangladesh and Malaysia. Your ongoing support
By November this pile of wood will be transformed into a primary school for 84 Chin children in Burma who at present have no chance of getting an education.
The Chin people in the tiny village of Tilum in Burma have been the target of persecution and oppression for many years. The Chin Human Rights Organisation describe how the Chin people in Burma have had to endure “decades long violation of the rights of women and children, forced labour, political suppression, racial discrimination religious persecutions committed by the Burmese military regime”.
Tilum is situated just 3 miles from the neighboring village of Tibual where one of the main Burma Army Battalions are posted. These soldiers force tax, labour and food from the Tilum villagers and consequently many people have left the village.
The remaining 19 households (which consist of 3-4 families sharing the same house) are those who lack the money or capacity to leave the village or those who are too afraid to settle in other communities. Many families cannot leave as they rely on jhuming cultivation, growing rice or sweetcorn in order to survive.
There is no transportation out of the village so the children remaining in Tilum have no chance of an education. This is why it’s so vital for us to support the community and build a primary school.
Children on the Edge are paying for the building of the school which will have four teachers and give an education to 84 children. Materials have arrived and building works have started, so come November we should be reporting on the opening of a brand new school.
Find out more about our work with the Chin people of Burma or donate to our projects.