Palaung refugees at a meeting with our team

Forced conscription pushes Palaung youth to flee Myanmar

Children as young as 12 years old are being forcibly conscripted into Burmese army-backed militia in Shan state. Soldiers from the Tai Yai (Shan) North militia are entering villages to take boys and girls away to join their fight against the Tai Yai South rebels. Conscripts are made to cook, carry, and clean, as well as fight in this on-going civil war.

Fight or flight

Our team from The Mirror Foundation's Rai Som school project drove to Ban Nor Lae village, near Doi Angkang in Fang district (Chiang Mai province) to meet with representatives of 30 Palaung hilltribe families who recently escaped from Myanmar. From the meeting we learned more details about what the group had to endure, both whilst living in Myanmar, and during their flight to Thailand.

Life under constant threat

Ban Nor Lae 28 08 22 00001The Palaung hilltribe is spread across northern South-East Asia, with the majority living in Shan state, Myanmar. The Shan people, aka Tai Yai, are politically and militarily split between the North militia, backed by the Burmese government, and the South rebel forces. The Palaung, as well as numerous other hilltribe ethnicities (eg Akha, Lahu), are caught in the middle.

Starting about three months ago (May 2022), Tai Yai North soldiers began demanding taxes from communities. Two sacks of rice, or the moetary equivalent, from each family. There is no opportunity to not pay, even if the family has no rice or money. In these cases, they must give up jewellery, household items, or even sell land, to pay the tax. It is unclear at the moment how often this tax will be demanded.

Villagers tend to sleep in the forest at night, especially if fighting is close by, to avoid being shelled by artillery or air strikes whilst asleep, or raids by the militia groups.

Education is not a realistic option, as local schools are run by the Tai Yai - lessons are taught in Tai Yai language, and very few Palaung children are able to speak it. None of the group we met with went to school, although all wished to do so, and recognised its importance towards having a better future.

Tai Yai North militia look for conscripts from the age of 12 years, up to retirement age. There is no distinction between males and females, so the only 'safe' people in the communities are the very young and the very old. These were the people left behind when this group fled their village, with some of their family members staying to look after them despite the risk to their own safety.

The escape

The group consists of 30 families, all off whom are within the conscription age range. It took them three days to reach the Thai-Myanmar border, but they were unable to cross at their first attempt near Tachilek - the Myanmar border crossing town opposite Mae Sai (Thailand border town). This resulted in them moving further along the border until they were able to cross without being stopped by Myanmar or Thai military. They eventually made it to Ban Nor Lae, at which point we were contacted to see if we could offer any assistance.

During the journey, the group slept during the day and moved at night, in order to avoid detection. They had no food, and only the clothes they were wearing. Some of the group got lost, so relatives who have made it to Ban Nor Lae are anxiously waiting their arrival or contact via mobile phone.

Of the group representatives at the meeting, all of their parents remain in Myanmar looking after grandparents or very young children.

One family that arrived eight days ago, consists of a father, month and 3-month old child. They fled because the father was concerned he would be conscripted, leaving no-one to look after the family.

What next?

LINE ALBUM 220829None of the group we talked to wanted to return to Myanmar under the present circumstances - they are scared of conscription - but are worried about the family members left behind.

In the short term, they need clothing and food, and the opportunity to work. We were able to supply several large sacks of second-hand clothing from our warehouse, as well as rice and some cooking utensils.

None of them have Myanmar citizenship because they have never been registered or have any documentation - living in remote communities, births are at home. There is no opportunity for them to apply for Thai citizenship under the current law, so they are now stateless in Thailand.

They can't leave this village for fear of being picked up by the Thai police as illegal immigrants, but the villagers at Ban Nor Lae are very supportive of refugees coming into the community - they are also Palaung, and most if not all are refugees as well. They share their food and homes with new arrivals, and give them work in the surrounding fields and plantations - sometimes for money, sometimes for food.

This year there is an average of 7-8 families escaping per month to Ban Nor Lae, which as much as the villagers are helping, is putting a strain on resources.

As such, the current urgent needs are clothing and food.


Other information

  • The average daily wage is 20 baht (about £0.50 GBP; $0.70 USD). It's enough to buy, literally, a handful of rice grains
  • Villagers, if they have land to farm, grow corn and rice to feed themselves, and opium to sell to the militias
    • Tai Yai North militia buy the opium to sell on, funding the costs of the war - this is done with the support of the Burmese army
    • Tai Yai South produce and smuggle Methamphetamine to fund their costs, whilst harrassed by Burmese forces to prevent it - Methamphetamine brings in a much higher price than opium, so the Thai Yai South have much more income for their war chest

 What can you do to help?

Donations

LINE ALBUM 220829 4Donations of clothing and food are urgently needed to help the latest refugees that have arrived. If we can, we want to send regular supplies as new groups are arriving every month.

For donors who live overseas, monetary donations are most convenient, and we can buy provisions locally. This also saves in shipping costs.

Please send donations by:

Bank Transfer

  • Bank: Krung Thai Bank
  • Account number : 539-0-57058-8
  • Account name: Rai Som Wittaya Learning Center
  • SWIFT Code: KRTHTHBK

Myanmar Project Offical

Two Canadian students (Nathan & Nathan) set up a project specifically aimed at collecting donations for this type of situation, raising approximately 88,000 baht (£2,000 GBP; $2,500 USD). With these funds we are able to deliver the following provisions to Ban Nor Lae village and the refugee families:

  • Rice - 100 sacks ( 750 baht ea.)
  • Milk - 100 cases (36 per case = 3600 cartons)
  • Mosquito nets
  • Blankets

LINE ALBUM 220829 3


 Find out more about the Palaung here

 

 

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