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BANGKOK (AP) – Aid workers and activists warn political upheavals in Myanmar risk sparking a regional refugee crisis as conflicts following a February coup displace growing numbers of people who have lost their homes. means of subsistence.
Tom Andrews, the UN special rapporteur for Myanmar, said the violence had resulted in the displacement of nearly 250,000 people. As Myanmar’s neighbors prepare for a summit this week to discuss the coup, he and other rights activists warn the situation could get out of hand.
“The world must act immediately to deal with this humanitarian catastrophe,” Andrews said Wednesday in a message on Twitter.
A mass civil disobedience movement and the efforts of the security forces to crush it have left many people out of work. The disruption of Internet service by the authorities is also destroying the means on which many people in this impoverished country rely for a living.
The Southeast Asia 10 Member Association, or ASEAN, called a meeting on Saturday on the crisis that has left more than 700 civilians dead, according to the Association for the Assistance of Political Prisoners, which follows the victims since the takeover of military power.
ASEAN’s stance of non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, and the relatively undemocratic nature of many of its member governments, has left Myanmar’s neighbors reluctant to impose sanctions on the regime that has fallen. seized power from the elected civilian government of Aung San Suu. Kyi. She was imprisoned with over 3,000 others.
The growing number of people fleeing bombings and other violence by Burmese forces “is something that (ASEAN) wants to keep control. Refugees who cross borders are not internal, it is becoming a regional problem, ”said Sally Thompson, executive director of the Border Consortium, the main provider of food, shelter and other aid to Myanmar refugees for more than three decades.
“It’s the ASEAN countries that can put pressure on Myanmar because they are a trading bloc,” Thompson said during a briefing at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand.
She estimated that around 7,000 people were camping along the Salween River on the border with Thailand, more than 1,000 of whom were hiding in Thai forests. This is just one area along the borders that stretch from India in the west through China and Thailand in the north and east.
So far, most of the displaced are still in Myanmar, adding to those who have already had to flee due to long-standing ethnic insurgencies. But the fighting has disrupted their access to food and other essentials.
“People have still found areas of comfort inside Myanmar, but if this conflict spreads to ethnic states along the border areas, you will see flows of refugees,” James Rodehaver, Myanmar team leader of the High Office based in Bangkok. Commissioner for Human Rights, said at a recent seminar.
The mass civil disobedience movement has left many Burmese businesses, from banks to hospitals to garment factories, closed. This prompted people to flee the cities to return to their villages of origin, weighing on the families who relied on them for their support.
The unrest is magnified by the coronavirus pandemic, which increases the risk of the spread of epidemics and has also forced some migrant workers to return to Myanmar from Thailand and other countries.
“Myanmar’s economy is collapsing. Salaries are no longer paid. People’s livelihoods disappear as they go into hiding for their own safety, ”Thompson said. The whole country is heading towards a humanitarian crisis. “
So far, most of the sanctions taken in an attempt to force Myanmar’s military rulers to reverse the coup and restore the elected government have been adopted by Western governments.
This includes a ban on doing business with large military-affiliated companies that dominate many industries, including the lucrative gemstone and jade trade.
It is not known whether such measures had much impact just a few weeks after the coup. It takes time for revenue streams to decline, and so far companies that pay revenue for oil and gas, the country’s biggest export, are mostly sticking around, claiming they are responsible for keeping the lights of the low-energy country on and protecting theirs. employees. But it’s clear the economy is headed for worse problems, economists say.
Fitch Solutions has downgraded its estimate from 2% growth for the current fiscal year, which ends in September, to a contraction of minus 20%.
ASEAN accounts for about a third of all Myanmar’s foreign trade, with China having a larger share. And much of the foreign investment in the country comes from the region.