Myanmar: Urgent needs for displaced communities in southern Shan
It is the largest state in the country, bordering China to the north, Laos to the east and Thailand to the south. But for decades, this beautiful land has experienced ongoing clashes leading to waves of displacement.
While long-term displacement in the north exacerbates vulnerability both to conflict and COVID-19, newly displaced communities in the south also need urgent humanitarian support.
"I lost everything," says Daw Nu Rai*, a mother of five children who now lives in Hsi Hseng, southern Shan. "We've been displaced for a year now. We couldn't sleep properly till we arrived at this camp three months ago."
Following intense clashes in Kayah State, several thousand people from Loikaw, Demoso, Hpruso and Pekon were forced to leave their homes and seek refuge in southern Shan State. "I didn't know what to do first when the fighting started. I have five children who depend on me," says Daw Nu Rai.
Some undertook their journey by car, some took trucks and others rode motorbikes as they left their homes behind. "We tried to fit four people on one bike when we crossed the Shan and Kayah border. It took us about 12 hours to reach a place that we felt safe in," Daw Nu Rai says.
When people are forced from their homes by conflict, they often have to leave almost everything behind. They arrive at sites of temporary shelter without daily household items like soap, water filters or a roof overhead – things all too easily take for granted. Many rely on the hospitality of temporary host communities in monasteries, churches or the homes of relatives.
"They have gone through so much over the past months. I can't even imagine the physical and mental trauma that they are going through right now," says Daw Myint* from one such displacement site in Hsi Hseng. As a member of the host community, she has been helping to care for the displaced people from Kayah State.
With multiple generations of a family – children to grandparents – displaced together, there is a range of humanitarian needs within the community.
"Every weekend we try to conduct psychosocial support sessions for adults, where we listen to their stories of trauma and comfort them," says Daw Myint.
While dealing with conflict trauma is always challenging, it can be even more difficult for children who are still learning and growing. "We organize playtime and lessons for children to help them refocus their mind and slowly process what is going on around them, at their own pace," says Daw Myint
Alongside the hospitality of the host communities, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been working with the Myanmar Red Cross Society (MRCS) to support people displaced by violence in Pin Laung and Hsi Hseng and provide emergency aid.
"We recently completed our second trip to Hsi Hseng and Pin Laung. Together with the MRCS, we were able to provide rice, peas, oil and salt to nearly 2000 families to ensure that they don't go hungry," says Martin Samtan from the ICRC Lashio team.
Beyond emergency assistance, we shared life-saving information about landmines and other explosive hazards that continue to be a risk to all communities. We also shared our ICRC hotline number to help people connect with loved ones separated by clashes or displacement.
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Our teams are still on the ground, working with communities affected by conflict, alongside the MRCS, to identify and respond to those most urgent needs.