By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent
(Worthy News) - A growing number of Christian refugees fleeing conflict-torn Myanmar are stuck in the jungles of Thailand as they are unable to defend themselves, Christian aid workers say.
“They are helpless, unable to defend themselves from brutal, well-equipped military forces,” in Myanmar said the Thailand project partner of Barnabas Fund, a Christian charity.
“Life is hard for them,” the group added, describing life for the ethnic Karenni people in Kayah state in Myanmar, also known as Burma.
Kayah is one of the least developed states in Myanmar, and its people, mainly Christians, are reportedly attacked and forcibly removed from their land.
“People are killed, and church buildings are burnt. This is part of a pattern of persecution across Myanmar, where village after village is targeted” by the “much-feared” Myanmar military, also called ‘Tatamadaw,’ the group added.
“Through bombing, artillery fire, ransacking homes, and killing livestock, they drive out the inhabitants. The Tatmadaw’s targets are usually the mainly Christian ethnic minorities like the Karenni or Red Karen, a subgroup of the Karen people,” Barnabas Fund said.
Barnabas Fund said it was raising funds to help Karenni refugees in their troubled hiding areas. “Many Karenni have tried to cross the border into Thailand. But this is easier said than done, and family members can get separated from each other in the dangerous process.”
It said that in recent weeks a Karenni man at the border was shot in the leg and could no longer walk. Additionally, “One group of Karenni who had gathered near the border preparing to escape was ambushed by the Tatmadaw. Six young people were handcuffed and taken away. No one knows what has happened to them.”
But some Karenni families did manage to cross into Thailand, which had begun reluctantly to welcome them openly.
One group of about 250 families, some 1,400 people, including elderly relatives, is living together in the jungle, Christians told Worthy News
It is a remote and flood-prone place which can only be reached by motorbike or on foot, they acknowledged. “But the more difficult their hiding place is to access, the safer it is for the Karenni,” Barnabas Fund explained.
“The refugees have built makeshift shelters, but there is no way for them to earn a living. Local Christians are doing their best to provide for the Karenni’s practical needs but have appealed to Barnabas Fund to assist.”
The group says it prepares to deliver food items including rice, yellow beans, noodles, cooking oil, salt, and hygiene packages containing soap and washing powder.
It also appealed for floor mats and mosquito nets for the Karenni refugees.
Despite the misery, Christian aid workers in the area remain hopeful. They recalled the story of a Karenni boy who got separated from his parents as the family crossed from Myanmar into Thailand. “About a week later, they were reunited – a miracle, say local Christians,” Barnabas Fund said.
The standoff between minority Christians and the Buddhist-dominated army increased since the military seized control on February 1. Elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party were among those detained in the coup.
More than 1,000 people, including Christians, have since died in protests and a military crackdown, according to the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners (AAPP).
The figures provided by the AAPP, which has been recording killings by security forces, have been disputed by the ruling junta as “exaggerated.”