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Karen at Nhill raise funds for displaced in Myanmar

23 June 20210 comments

The Karen refugee community at Nhill in western Victoria has staged a fund-raising event to support people displaced in Myanmar because of the conflict that has followed the military coup in February.

A day of music, food and dance performances attracted hundreds of Karen and other locals and raised around $8000 for people forced to flee their homes in Myanmar. It was held on May 22 at the Nhill Community Centre.

Karen community leader Naw Th’Blay said that the Karen community had not forgotten the thousands of internally displaced persons who have been forced to flee their homes because of the actions of the Myanmar military.

“Life for these people is very hard and we want to support them,” she said.

“Often they have no food and their villages have been burned down. And life in a refugee camp means no hope, no dreams and no future. So we want to help,” Ms Th’Blay said.

She said many children had been killed or gone missing during the latest conflict.

“The military attacked with weapons attacking villages and aircraft dropped bombs. People started hiding in caves, in valleys and under rocks – wherever they could find shelter. Many people were injured or got killed.

“Many children have lost their futures and their education. As people were running for their lives, it was raining so many people got diarrhoea or malaria and they had no medication and nowhere to be treated or cared for,” she said.

Myanmar’s military seized power in the country in a coup in February, after detaining the country’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and numerous other top government figures.

Since then hundreds have died as the military cracked down on pro-democracy protests and launched offensive against the nation’s ethnic minorities.

More recently, thousands of Karen refugees fleeing the armed conflict in Myanmar are stranded along the banks of a river that forms the border with Thailand with no access to shelter, food or medicine, aid groups have reported.

The Karen, trapped along the Salween River, are part of a minority that has long suffered persecution by the Myanmar military.

Aid groups have called on the Thai military to allow humanitarian aid to be delivered to the border.

The Karen Peace Support Network (KPSN) has claimed in an online discussion that as many as 70,000 people, or about 90 per cent of the rural population in Myanmar’s Karen state have been displaced by conflict over the past three months.

The KPSN said military offensives carried out by the Myanmar military – which include heavy shelling as well as air strikes – have destroyed many villages along the border, forcing at least 7,600 people from 43 villages to flee for their lives.

Many are hiding in the jungles, while around 5,500 people are now trying to cross the border into Thailand in search of a safe refuge, she said.

Other reports says many Karen have been pushed back into Myanmar by Thai troops.

“Many of the refugees are pregnant women, children and the elderly, and some were injured by the fighting. They are in urgent need of food, medicine, shelter, sanitation and water,” a KPSN statement said.

“If villagers cannot plant rice this season, the situation will become much worse.”

The statement called on the Thai government to provide protection and shelter for the refugees, in addition to allowing humanitarian aid to be distributed.

It also asked the international community to impose an arms embargo on Myanmar and cut off all forms of economic support for the military regime.

Karen people see Thailand as a safe haven from the prolonged armed conflicts at home. The Karen State has been a battleground between the Myanmar military and minority ethnic groups for many decades.

Melbourne Karen community leader Hsar Ju said that over the past few months around 4,000 people have crossed the Thai border and been detained by the army before being sent back to Myanmar.

“But they are now being sent back into danger. The international community needs to put more pressure on the Myanmar military to stop this campaign which is effectively ethnic cleansing,” Mr Ju said.

See a video of the event here: