October 29, 2021

IntelBrief: Refugees Flee Escalating Violence in Myanmar

(AP Photo/Azim Aunon)

Bottom Line Up Front

  • The Myanmar military has increased its indiscriminate attacks on residential areas, and since the February coup, over 1,200 people have reportedly been killed by the military.
  • 219,000 people have been newly internally displaced since the coup, with 155,000 in the southeast alone along the border with Thailand, and 15,000 fleeing to India.
  • In early September, the National Unity Government called for a nation-wide popular uprising against the military.
  • The ASEAN Summit is ongoing this week with a notable absence, the Myanmar junta chief, who was not allowed to participate due to inadequate progress on the Five-Point Consensus, a roadmap to achieving stability.

Violence and displacement have severely escalated in Myanmar, as the military, known as the Tatmadaw, has increased its indiscriminate attacks, and groups have mobilized in more fervent and organized armed opposition. Since the February coup, over 1,200 people have been killed by the military and approximately 7,000 people arrested, charged, or sentenced, according to the local human rights group, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. The military campaign has been particularly brutal in Chin State since August. In areas where local People’s Defense Forces (PDF) operate, as coalitions of militia members and protesters, the Tatmadaw has reportedly indiscriminately attacked residential areas, using rocket launchers, burning homes, and cutting off access to resources. The Chin Human Rights Organization reports that over 60% of individuals killed in Chin State in August and September were civilians. The situation in the southeast in Kayah State and the Tanintharyi Region has also devolved due to conflict between the Tatmadaw and the PDF and ethnic armed organizations (EAOs). 

In early September, the National Unity Government (NUG), the shadow government of deposed civilian leaders, called for a nation-wide popular uprising against the military. Duwa Lashi La, the acting president of the NUG, said in a video disseminated widely on social media that it was time for “a nationwide uprising in every village, town and city, in the entire country at the same time.” The NUG indicated that, in July and August, the People’s Defense Force killed over 1,300 soldiers, although this remains unconfirmed. Increased displacement and insecurity could drive greater numbers of refugees to flee to Thailand and India. Aid groups remain concerned that refugees may be pushed back across the border upon trying to escape to neighboring countries.

The UN reports that approximately 15,000 people have fled Myanmar to India since the February coup. In these nine months, 219,000 people have been newly internally displaced, with 155,000 displaced in the southeast alone, along the border with Thailand. Approximately 3 million people are now in need of humanitarian assistance in Myanmar—2 million of whom have been newly identified since February, according to OCHA. Non-governmental organizations have reported approximately 300 attacks and threats against health workers, facilities, and transports in Myanmar since February, the vast majority of which were attributed to the military and police. 

In a briefing to the United Nations General Assembly on October 22, Tom Andrews, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, indicated that tens of thousands of troops are in the process of amassing in the north and northwest. He warned, "These tactics are ominously reminiscent of those employed by the military before its genocidal attacks against the Rohingya in Rakhine State in 2016 and 2017.” He additionally reinforced calls for an arms embargo on Myanmar. 

After critiquing the junta’s inadequate progress on the Five-Point Consensus, ASEAN precluded the participation of junta chief Min Aung Hlaing in their summit this week. ASEAN allowed “non-political representatives,” which included the National Unity Government, at the 38th and 39th ASEAN Summit and Related Summits; the junta did not send junior representation to the summit. In an apparent attempt to repair its global image, the Tatmadaw announced last week that it granted amnesty to over 5,600 individuals, although some were reportedly re-arrested soon thereafter. Just this week, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan met virtually with NUG representatives, reaffirming U.S. support for the pro-democracy movement and for accountability for the coup. As the Tatmadaw further assemble troops in the wake of their escalating, indiscriminate violence, severe concerns persist for the protection of civilians, viable options for refugees fleeing insecurity, and the prospects of tireless pro-democracy efforts. UN Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews recently offered this guidance for international support to the people of Myanmar: "Targeting these three needs of the junta—weapons, money, and legitimacy—while increasing humanitarian support to the people of Myanmar, is urgently needed.”