Myanmar: JRS Myanmar Director shared personal experience working with IDPs

30 October 2020

World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2020, the theme chosen by Pope Francis for the 106th observance of this day is “Forced like Jesus Christ to flee,” focusing on people displaced within the borders of their own country.

Rosalyn, JRS Myanmar Director, was invited as a peace leader in Asia Pacific to join the online World Day of Migrants and Refugees event on 23 September 2020. She shared her personal experience working to serve IDPs in conflict-affected areas in Myanmar.


Full recording of the event:

Full Rosalyn’s transcript:

Hello, “Mingalar Bar”! Greetings from Myanmar!

I am very happy and honored to be part of this event.
Today, what I am going to share is about my personal experiences as someone whose parents were displaced in the past, and also, my experience and some stories of IDPs in my journey with JRS. The stories are from Kachin and Kayah states where terrible things happened but people do not know much.

Even before I was born, my parents experienced fleeing from civil war. And up to now at my age, I am so sad seeing many people still fleeing from the civil war in my country amidst the COVID-19 pandemic! I am grateful to my late parents who migrated to town or else I would still be in the jungle or might take refuge in Thailand as some of my relatives whom I met in refugee camp in Mae Hong Son, Thailand when I started working with JRS in 2009.

Myanmar, in which majority (89.8% of ~54M population) are Buddhists, is a very diverse country with 135 national races/ethnic groups. Though diversity is beautiful, it is up to how we appreciate and respect each other in action. Sometimes, discrimination is observed based on identities such as ethnicities and religions, and that could create tensions, violence and conflict.

The conflict and violence has made more than 450,000 people displaced internally (IDMC, July 2020).And many also were forced to flee to other neighboring countries.

And JRS works in Kachin and Kayah states.

Some of the displaced people experienced multiple displacements in their life. I met a 65 years old man in one village in Kayah State where JRS works, he said…in his life, he had to flee for 11 times. His village was burned down by Myanmar Army many times, they ran and hid in the jungle….waiting for situation….if better, then came back to build the house, ran again, built again, ran again,… the cycle of displacements. They experienced a lot of struggles even to survive. He said that it is only after 2015 that the situation is a bit better. But he still has doubt and worried that the whole village might be displaced again.

I can’t forget one silent Christmas party with our Teacher Training Participants in Kachin in December 2017… we could not enjoy…but we all were sad and cried deeply…and we prayed together that the baby Jesus accompanied the families of two of our teacher training participants to be safe as they were forced to flee together with the other villagers due to the clashes. It took a few days that they met each other when the families arrived to take refuge in the Church compound in TangHpre. JRS supported to renovate the old building to use as atemporary learning center (TLC), and additional toilet as well as regular psychosocial support (PSS) activities with the children there. After staying temporarily there, those IDPs were moved to other IDP camps in Myitkyina, whom JRS continues accompanying them.

Together with the local Catholic Church and camp leaders, I was involved in rescuing some displaced people to bring them to safer place in Kachin State. It was in late April 2018 when the clashes resumed between Myanmar Army (MA) and Kachin Independence Army (KIA). They shared their experience to us that the MA attacked their village and they had to leave all their properties including animals….and fled to the jungle. They walked in the jungle for two nights to reach the riverside where we were waiting. We brought them to one IDP camp in Waimaw Township. It was so beautiful to see IDPs helping one another. The IDPs in that camp welcomed and helped the new arrivals in arranging places for them and cooked for them. Since it was already late at night, we could not cross the main bridge to return to Myitkyina, so we slept in that IDP camp. I slept with one IDP family whose whole room is just about 10-12square feet. Their simplicity and generosity made me feel very warm.

There are many challenges faced by IDPs across the country, and onlyIDPsin recognized camps receive about 8-11 USD per person per month for food from humanitarian organizations. Since it is not enough, they need to rely on daily labor. There are protection risks especially for children and youth, such as those listed on the screen. Life for them is already very difficult and COVID-19 made them more difficult.

Other challenges include: uncertainty for return to their villages of origin due to tension and potential risk of the conflict and landmine risks, the worry that their lands might be confiscated by MA or other business companies as the current land law does not protect the IDPs’ land ownership. In terms of education, there is structural barriers in accessing government education by students from non-government controlled areas (NGCA), and discrimination and bullying in some government schools experienced by some IDP students.

To ensure IDPs having access to inclusive learning environment, Myanmar Ministry of Education should adopt a fair and consistent policy on accepting all IDP students. The government teachers should also be supported with trainings on Psychosocial support, socio-emotional learning, as well as child protection in order to support the wellbeing of IDP students and to create a supportive relationship among all students in the classroom. It would be better too if the school or community could arrange some language support activities since some IDP students couldn’t understand Burmese language which is the main Language of Instruction in most government schools.

Due to the increase of local COVID-19 transmissions, all the borders are closed, all schools are closed, and local travel restrictions are imposed. During the talking circles and home visits we made in IDP camps we work, most people say that they are worried and very much concerned for the family’s survival, worried for their children’s education, worried for contraction of COVID-19 too as they live in crowded camps. Although there is a high risk of landmine contamination, some IDPs shared to us that some took the risk to go back to their farms around their villages of origin to plant paddy, and some go to gold mine to work.

JRS started our accompaniment mission with the IDPs since 2014 in Kachin and in Kayah State in 2016. We mainly focused on education, such as teacher training, because we want to make sure that, these children can continue to have access to education. We also accompany them in Peace and Reconciliation, and small-scale livelihood. And we work with local church organizations, youth and justice and peace commissions, and community-based organization.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we adapted our service delivery such as changing from in-person training/meeting to on-line where appropriate, producing teacher training videos or print-based resources for teachers in the remote areas where there is no access to electricity, changing from big meetings to small group meetings, integrating COVID-19 and PSS key messages into all existing activities and materials with local dialect. With the generous support from JRS donors, we, together with our partners, were able to support ~4000 people including IDPs and those involved in COVID-19 response activities, with some emergency food ration, safety materials and hygiene promotion materials.

I would like to take this as an opportunity to thank all our donors including the congregations which support our work in Myanmar. Dear sisters and friends in the Lord, thank you so much for your kind support and prayer.

And I would like to end my presentation with a poem written by one teacher reflecting on what is happening currently in Rakhine State, and from here I would like to ask all armed groups in Myanmar to stop war and to listen to the cries of the people especially women and children.

Thank you.