Burma, the country formally known as Myanmar, was under military rule for more than 45 years. Under various military regimes, widespread human rights violations occurred against civilians, particularly in the country’s ethnic areas. The first large refugee flows started after popular protests took place in 1988 and have continued over the years, producing the region’s largest refugee population.
The effects of the military have been felt by the civilians of Burma in a number of ways both direct and indirect. Direct effects of conflict include the burning of fields and homes by military forces, attacks on villages, and taking children and teachers as forced labour.
Under military rule, opportunities to receive an education were severely limited. There were very few schools built by the military regime in the ethnic areas, and even fewer teacher salaries provided to those who taught there. The local communities in the military controlled areas were hampered in their abilities to provide their children with an education, as the military placed heavy demands on them in terms of forced labor and taxes.
Students who become internally displaced have to be constantly on the run and while there are many cases of education being provided in IDP communities, it is often disjointed and limited in scope.
As a result, students often cross the border to Thailand looking for a stable environment and a place to go to school.
Changes to the situation
In May 2008, Burma experienced its most devastating natural disaster, Cyclone Nargis. It is difficult to know exactly how many people died during the cyclone, or how many suffered from the disease and lack of relief efforts in the time after it, but estimates exceed 200,000 people. Although the cyclone did not result in many refugees in Thailand, at least one partner began with sheltering the children of victims who had found their way to Mae Sot after the storm.
To learn more about Cyclone Nargis, please visit the following links:
In 2009, rumours of attacks against students returning to their homes during the summer holidays kept many children from seeing their parents and many stayed in the camps rather than risk going home. The security situation did not improve this year and many children stayed in camp.
In the past, many border areas were under the control of the Karen National Union. These areas were protected from government abuse. Schools functioned well there and children were able to get an education. Over the past three years, these areas have steadily fallen under the control of Burma’s military government and to armed forces aligned with the military government. Forced labour has left families will less income to spend on education and older children are more likely to have to work. The risk for young men in becoming forcibly recruited as child soldiers has increased dramatically over the past two years. As a result, every year, the number of children entering refugee camps seeking an education has increased.
A general election was held in Burma in November 2010. It sparked an outbreak of violence in the border town of Myawaddy, across the river from Mae Sot. Over ten thousand people fled to safety in Mae Sot, only to be returned to Burma the next day. Another ten thousand fled in other locations along the border. In July 2011, local aid groups estimated that 11,000 people still remained in hiding in Thailand, afraid to go home and afraid to let their presence be known, even to aid workers, in the fear that Thai security forces would deport them back into danger.
To learn more about the elections in Burma, you can visit these links:
In 2015, the National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, won an overwhelming majority in the national elections, bringing new hope to those living in Burma. Although there are many challenges ahead for the new government, it is continuing with nationwide peace efforts, democratization and progress for the country. We are hopeful for positive changes but believe this will take time. Consequently, we continue our work with unparented children from Burma.