Thousands Flee Myanmar In Growing Refugee Crisis

For decades, armed conflict, political repression and targeted campaigns against minorities have forced hundreds of thousands of people to leave the country. Now many more are expected to follow.

By Sui-Lee Wee


A refugee carrying his grandmother to the shore of Mizoram, India, after crossing the Tiau River from Myanmar. Credit...Atul Loke for The New York Times


Terrified farmers and families with children in Myanmar are fleeing into India as the military junta that seized power in a February coup continues to seek out and eliminate resistance along the country’s border.


The Tatmadaw, as the Myanmar military is known, has targeted areas that are home to thousands of armed civilians who call themselves the People’s Defense Force. Soldiers have fired rocket launchers into residential neighborhoods, burned down homes, cut off internet access and food supplies, and even shot at fleeing civilians, according to residents.


For more than seven decades, armed conflict, political repression and targeted campaigns against minorities like the Rohingyas have forced hundreds of thousands of people from Myanmar to seek refuge in other countries. Many more are now expected to follow.


Aid groups say they are preparing for a flood of refugees, but are concerned that countries surrounding Myanmar such as Thailand may push them back. In Chin State in the northwest of Myanmar, an entire town of roughly 12,000 people has nearly emptied out in the past month. Residents have reported a large buildup of troops in recent weeks, signaling a potential wider crackdown by the Tatmadaw and leaving many people desperate to escape.


Eight months since the military seized control in a coup, the death toll in Myanmar continues to mount, with civilians bearing the brunt. Credit...Atul Loke for The New York Times


The Tiau River forms part of the boundary between India and Myanmar. Credit...Atul Loke for The New York Times


An injured Myanmar local being carried to board a small boat to India. Credit...Atul Loke for The New York Times


After troops burned down his home on Sept. 18 with rocket-propelled grenades, Ral That Chung decided he had no choice but to leave Thantlang, his town in Chin State.


“I love Myanmar, but I will return only if there is peace,” said Mr. Ral That Chung, who walked for eight days with 10 members of his family to reach India. “It’s better to suffer here than to live in fear in my own country.”


In the eight months since the army seized control, roughly 15,000 people in Myanmar have fled for India, according to the United Nations. Catherine Stubberfield, a spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ Asia and Pacific bureau, said the agency has tracked some 5,000 people who successfully entered India from Myanmar after recent clashes.


“The brutality in which entire villages are attacked indiscriminately has created a horrific situation in which people are absolutely desperate,” said Tom Andrews, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar. “And things are getting worse.”