Since the political events of February 2021, the humanitarian situation has deeply deteriorated in Myanmar. Armed violence, combined with political, economic and Covid-19 crises, has created serious humanitarian needs, says Jérôme Bobin, Humanity & Inclusion’s Program Director in Myanmar. Bobin explains the situation:
Today, a staggering 14.4 million people need humanitarian assistance, compared to 1 million people at the beginning of 2021; humanitarian needs have just skyrocketed. At least 13% are people with disabilities, who are particularly exposed to violence, discrimination, lack of access to information and greater barriers to receiving medical and humanitarian services.
Among the main humanitarian issues, estimations show that 48% of the population may soon live in poverty, due to the disrupted economy that led to food insecurity for a large part of the population. World Food Program estimates that 3.4 million people will require food assistance over the next six months. Many injured people and people with disabilities cannot access immediate treatment, rehabilitation care and assistive devices, facing risks of life-long physical and psychosocial consequences.
This last year, we have also seen an increase in the use of landmines and explosive devices in Myanmar. This is causing new casualties and putting a strong threat on some communities that were not used to live in contaminated areas, as well as on displaced people who have been forced to move due to the numerous clashes. According to UNOCHA, nearly 290,000 people have been internally displaced across Myanmar since February 2021, in addition to the 370,000 people already living in protracted displacement.
Humanity & Inclusion’s response
Despite the complexity of the situation and the specificities of each region, Humanity & Inclusion has continued providing early childhood development activities to internally displaced children, as well as rehabilitation services, such as physical therapy and distribution of assistive devices.
We also have distributed non-food and food items to communities, and provided mental health and psychosocial support to people affected by both the Covid-19 pandemic and the security crisis.
We adapted our explosive ordnance risk education activities to reach and inform communities at risk. We also continued offering assistance for survivors of landmines, with some livelihood support.
Initiated under the first wave of Covid-19 in Myanmar, we contributed to the development and adaptation of teaching tools to make sure that children with disabilities had access to education. As part of a long-lasting, multi-stakeholders disaster preparedness project, Humanity & Inclusion was also able to support its partners in the provision of emergency medical assistance and personal protective equipment.
Finally, we worked closely with local and international partners, as well as donors, to promote the inclusion of persons with disabilities in global humanitarian assistance and to enhance the accessibility of services.
More than 80 million people in the world are living forcibly displaced from their homes, according to the latest data from the UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency. That number has doubled over the last decade, skyrocketing in the last few years.
Violent conflicts, human rights violations, weather-related disasters and food insecurity are among key factors forcing people to flee their homes.
Among the 80 million people currently displaced, 45.7 million are displaced inside their home country. Humanitarian law differentiates between these individuals, who are referred to as internally displaced people, and refugees, who flee their home and cross a border to seek refuge in another country.
More than two-thirds of all refugees come from just five countries:
- Syria: 6.6 million
- Venezuela: 3.7 million
- Afghanistan: 2.7 million
- South Sudan: 2.3 million
- Myanmar: 1 million
More and more people are displaced for years. For example, the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya was established in 1992 and has grown akin to a small city. With more an 180,000 people living there, it is one of the world’s largest refugee camps. The camp is home to refugees from Sudan, Uganda, Eritrea, Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Humanity & Inclusion works alongside people living in the camp and nearby host communities to provide physical rehabilitation services and assistive devices such as wheelchairs and crutches, and improve the living conditions of for refugees, in particular those with disabilities, by ensuring equal access to services, raising awareness of discrimination and building the capacity of staff working with refugees to assess needs.
Displacement of people with disabilities
Approximately 15% of the 80 million people displaced worldwide are living with a disability. Globally, an estimated 12 million people with disabilities have been forcibly displaced from their homes by conflict and persecution.
Forced displacement disproportionately affects people with disabilities, who are often at higher risk of violence, exploitation and abuse, and face barriers to basic services, education and employment.
Having left behind their homes and belongings, many displaced people—including those with disabilities—depend on humanitarian organizations like Humanity & Inclusion to access health care, food, water, shelter and other necessities.
Header image: A man carries his daughter, who is wearing leg braces, through a refugee settlement in Lebanon. They are Syrian refugees. Copyright: Kate Holt/HI, 2021
Inline image: An occupational therapist helps a boy with prosthetic legs use a walker during a rehabilitation session at the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. Copyright: Patrick Meinhardt/HI, 2019
Myanmar | INGOs Call for an End to Violence Against Civilians and Children and Warn of Imminent Humanitarian Crisis
As INGOs working in Myanmar, we condemn the Myanmar military’s widespread use of deadly violence against civilians.
We are deeply concerned that since Feb. 1, 2021, 550 civilians have been killed, including 46 children. This violence escalated even further on Saturday, March 27, when at least 114 people were killed in a single day. Over the same weekend, airstrikes were launched by the Myanmar military in Kayin/Karen State, killing civilians and forcing around 10,000 people to flee their homes. These horrific acts of violence must stop immediately.
We are deeply concerned by the dire humanitarian consequences of this crisis. Obstacles to access vital health services for those injured, or persons with chronic disease, increase the risk of long-term impairment, and represent a further challenge for Covid-19 response. The occupation of education and healthcare facilities across the country undermines the right to education and health.
We renew our call on armed forces and police to refrain from all forms of violence against civilians, peaceful protestors, journalists, and media workers, and to respect the fundamental human rights of all people in Myanmar, including freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of speech, and free flow of information.
We remain committed to working with our civil society partners and supporting communities with urgently needed assistance to meet their immediate basic needs, and with programs that build greater resilience over the longer term. The political crisis is creating new vulnerabilities, increased humanitarian needs and deepening poverty across the country. The lives, livelihoods and rights of civilians must be protected.
We urgently call for all stakeholders to use all possible diplomatic channels, forums and means to:
- Ensure civilians are protected from indiscriminate violence, and provide refuge and protection to those fleeing for safety, in line with international law
- Respect and facilitate unimpeded access to humanitarian assistance for communities in need across Myanmar
- Urgently find a peaceful solution to this crisis, together with the people of Myanmar
BBC Media Action
CARE International in Myanmar
Centre for Development and Environment
Church World Service
Community Partners International
Democracy Reporting International
Energy and Poverty Research Group
Fauna & Flora International
Finnish Refugee Council
Humanity & Inclusion / Handicap International Federation
Médecins du Monde France
Norwegian People’s Aid
People in Need
Save the Children
The Border Consortium
The Freedom Fund
The Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease
Yangon Film School
Myanmar: INGOs concerned upsurge in fighting in Rakhine State will cause greater hunger, displacement and vulnerability
As international humanitarian organizations working with communities throughout Rakhine State, we express deep concern for all those affected by the upsurge in fighting between the Arakan Army (AA) and the Myanmar Military in northern Rakhine State. This area in and around the Kyauk Tan village tract is home to more than 10,000 people and local sources report many are fleeing from their homes while others are trapped and unable to leave. We are deeply concerned by reports of burning villages, indiscriminate fire, and the arbitrary detention of civilians.
We urge all actors to protect civilians, exercise restraint and prevent the further escalation of conflict. Parties to the conflict must ensure full adherence to international humanitarian law and the protection of civilians. The Government must uphold the human rights of all civilians within Rakhine and Chin States.
We see first-hand the impact months of escalating fighting in Rakhine and Chin States is having on populations living in these areas. These latest operations will likely cause greater hunger, displacement and human suffering at a time when populations are dealing with COVID-19 and heavy rains from the monsoon season. Many children are at risk due to fighting and unable to attend school. Further, given that many farmers are now displaced during planting season, the recent escalation of fighting is further likely to negatively impact the long-term food security and livelihoods of impacted communities. Humanitarian access is already extremely limited and assistance is simply not able to reach many of the most impacted communities.
We call for unfettered access for humanitarian actors and their partners so that they can independently asses needs and provide comprehensive assistance and protection to affected communities. Unfettered access to all areas of Rakhine and Chin States for independent third parties, including journalists and human rights observers, should also be granted as soon as possible.
Many INGOs are working in Rakhine and Chin, often in partnership with national and local organizations, to provide humanitarian relief and development assistance and deliver aid based only on need. We abide by the regulations administered by the Government of Myanmar in relation to the provision of assistance, and coordinate with Union and State Governments as well as civil society and local communities most affected by the conflict. We adhere to humanitarian principles of independence, neutrality and impartiality.
We reiterate our earlier message to all parties to conflict to heed the call by the UN Secretary-General for a global ceasefire, extending to all parts of Myanmar without exceptions, to enable the protection of civilians and support efforts to prevent and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to evolve in Myanmar.
For the last 17 months, Humanity & Inclusion has been bringing emergency assistance to thousands of vulnerable Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Teams have identified the most at-risk refugees, including people with injuries, disabilities, and physiological trauma, and have been providing them with rehabilitation, counseling, shelter kits, and other necessities.
Gabriel Perriau, Communications Officer for Humanity & Inclusion Canada, recently visited Cox’s Bazar and shared the following report.
After 30 hours of air travel and a ride in a “tum-tum”—the Bangladeshi version of rickshaw—I was relieved to finally arrive at Cox's Bazar to get a bit of rest. A fishing port and tourist destination located along a 75-mile stretch of beaches, Cox's Bazar attracts the richest Bangladeshis. Paradoxically, this small seaside town has also become a hub for foreign humanitarian aid staff who work at the nearby Rohingya refugee camps.
The next day would be my first visit to a refugee camp, Ukhiya, which is crowded with more than 625,000 people, all waiting for a better future. The camp was formed in 1991 by a small group Rohingyas fleeing violence in Myanmar and has expanded dramatically since 2016 with the massive new influxes of Rohingyas.
In the morning, we drove some 20 miles out of the city. Gradually, the jungle gave way to a bleak landscape of makeshift shelters crisscrossed with narrow paths cut into the red soil. Plastic tarps and thatched roofs stretched for miles. The scenery was striking, but the sweltering heat was even more powerful.
To help us understand the difficulties the Rohingyas are facing, our local Humanity & Inclusion colleagues took us to meet several beneficiaries. First, we met Ali, an elderly man who had experienced a stroke that left him paralyzed on his left side. Ali explained to us how hard it is for someone with mobility challenges as nothing in the camp is designed for people with disabilities.
We then visited Sokina, a young woman who is permanently bedridden due to cerebral palsy. She could not speak, but when her eyes fixed on mine, I felt a sense of her suffering.
With each harrowing story I heard, I struggled to walk away. I felt the appreciation the beneficiaries and their families had for the HI staff supporting them. I could see how vital our work is to them.
Later, at an HI rehabilitation clinic, we met six-year-old Hamas and his father, Saidunamin. The physical therapist performed exercises with Hamas, who has cerebral palsy, while his father watched closely. At home, Saidunamin is Hamas's primary caretaker. Four of Saidunamin's six children have some form of disability. This is a significant burden for a family in a refugee camp like Ukhiya, with its rough roads and near complete lack of proper facilities.
With tears in his eyes, Saidunhamin told us how he completely relies on help from aid organizations to get by. The physical therapist tried to comfort him while I looked on, unable help.
Once the session ended, Saidunamin stood up and took his boy in his arms. He told the physical therapist, "shukria"—thank you—and began the long walk back home along a dusty path. My colleagues and I got into our small Toyota truck and headed back our hotel in Cox's Bazar.
At home, the newspapers occasionally mention the Rohingyas' struggle, and our government emphasizes the urgency of their situation. Nothing, however, could have prepared me for what I witnessed firsthand. It's hard to remain indifferent to the fate of these men, women, and children. They are thousands of miles away from us, but their humanity shows us how alike we are.
Help ensure critical aid reaches families who have fled with nothing.
The largest refugee camp in the world is built on tree-stripped hills in a flood-prone area of southern Bangladesh. With annual rains expected to arrive in April and the threat of cyclones looming, Humanity & Inclusion staff in the camps are extremely concerned about the impact of flooding and landslides.
In August 2017, Rohingya refugees fled in masses from neighboring Myanmar and set up rudimentary shelters across a 3,000 acre area in the Cox’s Bazar region of Bangladesh. Kutupalong-Balukhali camp now hosts over 600,000 people and is the largest and most densely populated refugee settlement in the world.
“The threat posed by the upcoming rainy season is likely to worsen from April to August” explains Sophie Dechaux, HI Country Director in Bangladesh. “Almost all trees and shrubs have been cleared to make space for shelters and many have been built on steep hillsides. When the rains arrive, the ground will be unable to absorb the water so we are expecting significant flooding and multiple landslides”
The effects are likely to put even greater strain on already stretched humanitarian services. “Families will be forced to move into safer areas; they will need new shelters. Overcrowding and standing flood water will create ideal conditions for waterborne diseases.”
HI has been supporting the most vulnerable people in the camps since the beginning of the emergency in August 2017. The challenges of the coming months will disproportionately affect our beneficiaries. People with physical disabilities will not be able to move around the camp to access services due to floods and many may not be able to move quickly in the case of a landslide.
HI is working with local authorities and coordinating with other humanitarian organizations to prepare. Our priority is to ensure that vulnerable people are taken into account and will still have access to the support they need.
Emergency and rehabilitation specialist Eric Weerts has been lending his support to disabled people’s organizations involved in the humanitarian relief effort in Myanmar. Accompanied by a logistics expert, Eric has managed to visit areas still under water, particularly in the south of the country, in the Irrawaddy river delta.Read more
Handicap International has deployed emergency response specialists to Myanmar (Burma) where more than one million people have been affected by severe flooding in 12 of the country’s 14 states. Their mission will be to support the efforts already being made by disabled people’s organizations (DPOs) to identify the needs of the most vulnerable victims and ensure they are included in the current humanitarian aid effort. Handicap International has been working with DPOs in Myanmar since 2014.Read more
Humanity & Inclusion in Myanmar
In Myanmar (formerly Burma), Humanity & Inclusion's team advances the rights of people injured by mines and explosive remnants of war and people with disabilities, and promotes their inclusion in local communities.
Since 1984, Humanity & Inclusion has been active in Burmese refugee camps along the Myanmar-Thailand border, setting up rehabilitation centers and supplying artificial limbs and mobility aids to people with disabilities that are built at workshops within the camps.
Since the start of theCovid-19 pandemic in 2020 and even more since the political crisis from February 2021, economy and financial services have collapsed and foreign investments have decreased, setting back development and putting more than half of the population at risk of extreme poverty.
Myanmar remains the only regime in the world to make regular use of anti-personnel mines.
Areas of Intervention
- Armed violence reduction
Humanity & Inclusion's 140-person staff provides support to casualties of mines and explosive remnants of war and people with disabilities, helps them access rehabilitation care and psychological support and ensures they are able to access a new source of income. Our team also helps people protect themselves by providing them with risk education on mines and explosive remnants of war.
Humanity & Inclusion trains medical teams in hospitals, in emergency services and natural disaster risk preparedness and performs advocacy work on the development of national disaster preparedness plans. The team also works with organizations led by and for people with disabilities to make sure people with disabilities are included in emergency preparation plans.
Working with children younger than 5 and pregnant women, our team works to identify disabilities early and provide rehabilitation sessions and psychosocial support to prevent the development of complications.
Our team works alongside people with disabilities to ensure access to services such as healthcare, education and employment. The organization also runs rehabilitation sessions for people with disabilities affected by the conflict in Kayin State.
Our Past Work
In Myanmar, Humanity & Inclusion promotes a culture of dignity, access, and inclusion for ALL people with disabilities or who are vulnerable. Over time, we have evolved our work to meet the dynamic needs of the communities where we serve.
Read on to learn more about our past work in Myanmar, and consider investing in our future.
Disaster Risk Reduction
Humanity & Inclusion responded to Cyclone Nargis in 2008.
To enhance the capacity of the region of Rangoon, Humanity & Inclusion trained 450 Burmese in disaster management, specifically how to assist those with disabilities in the wake of an emergency response operation.
To improve the quality of life of survivors injured by explosive remnants of war and other adults and children with disabilities, Humanity & Inclusion established a new survivor assistance center in Kyaukkyi providing both physical and psychosocial rehabilitation.
- Strengthened community and institutional resilience to natural hazards
- Built capacity of institutional and hospital staff to improve the quality of services provided to people with disabilities
Ensure All Children Have Access to Education
Humanity & Inclusion provided technical assistance to the Myanmar Independent Living Initiative and 200 other disabled people's organizations that work towards improving school accessibility for children with disabilities.