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 is invaluable.