While the world is focusing on the plight of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims, Christians caught up in another conflict, in northern Kachin, are largely forgotten, writes Geoffrey P. Johnston for Canadian newspaper The Whig.
Thousands have been killed and least 120,000 displaced in majority-Christian Kachin state, where the army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) have been fighting since the military seized control of the country in 1962, as World Watch Monitor has reported.
While the ethnic Kachin want autonomy, money also plays a role, says Johnston, citing Monica Ratra of the Christian charity Open Doors International.
“Kachin, Shan and Karen States are famous for high-value timber, jade and – illicit – opium trade, being part of the Golden Triangle,” Ratra told Johnston.
According to Ratra, the illicit trade benefits both the Myanmar military and the rebel KIA, and “there are even rumours that they tacitly cooperate in order not to stop the money flow”.
“A long-term result of persecution of the Kachin is that the young people lack perspective for their future,” she said. “Education is almost not possible, the state is not interested in educating Kachin people and does not provide funds; there were even reports that the army supports the drug trade for Kachin youth to keep them from taking up arms.”
Ethnic Karen living in refugee camps
Meanwhile more than 100,000 members of another majority-Christian ethnic tribe, the Karen, are languishing in refugee camps just across the border in Thailand, according to Fox News.
“The camps, which have been here for generations, are now rife with depression, substance abuse, and suicide – a taboo topic in Karen culture. Loved ones often refuse to discuss suicides, out of fear it will afflict another family member,” Fox reports.
A peace agreement signed between the government and armed Karen groups in 2015 has been labelled “superficial”, with tensions remaining.
Meanwhile aid to the camps has dwindled in recent years as Myanmar’s government told international donors that it had achieved peace with the Karen, leading to aid being channelled towards other emergencies, including the Rohingya crisis.
An education coordinator for the camps, Hayso Thako, said: “There is an increased pressure on people as a result of the reductions [in aid]. For the older people, they have been here so long they have lost hope of a better life. And for the young people who take their lives, there is no hope that they can see.”
Rev. Robert Htwa, a founder of one of the camps and a missionary among the Karen, said the funding cuts had also had an impact on their ability to offer basic psychological support.