‘Bleak milestone’: UN says 3 million forced to flee in Myanmar conflict

United Nations says the number displaced has jumped by 50 percent in last six months as fighting has intensified.

Women running in Loikaw amid fighting between the military and armed groups opposed to the 2021 coup. The women look worried.
Civilians run for safety amid air strikes in Loikaw last November [Reuters]

The number of people in Myanmar forced from their homes by conflict now exceeds more than 3 million in what the United Nations has described as a “bleak milestone” for the country.

The UN said the number displaced had surged by 50 percent in the last six months as fighting escalated between the military and armed groups trying to remove the generals who seized power in a coup in February 2021.

“Myanmar has this week marked a bleak milestone with more than 3 million civilians now displaced nationwide amid intensifying conflict,” the office of the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Myanmar said in a statement on Monday.

“Myanmar stands at the precipice in 2024 with a deepening humanitarian crisis that has spiraled since the military takeover in February 2021 and the consequent conflicts in many parts of the country, driving record numbers of people to abandon their homes seeking safety.”

Of the 3 million internally displaced people, more than 90 percent fled as a result of the conflict triggered by the coup, the UN added.

About half of the displaced are in the northwestern regions of Chin, Magway and Sagaing, with more than 900,000 in the southeast. About 356,000 people live in the western state of Rakhine where a brutal military crackdown in 2017 prompted more than 750,000 mostly Muslim Rohingya to flee into neighbouring Bangladesh.

Myanmar was plunged into crisis when Senior General Min Aung Hlaing seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, which led to mass protests that evolved into an armed uprising when the military responded with brutal force.

Fighting has intensified since the end of October last year when ethnic armed groups allied with anti-coup fighters launched a major offensive in northern Shan and western Rakhine states overrunning dozens of military outposts and taking control of several key towns near the border with China.

In recent weeks, the military has also been battling with ethnic Karen groups for control of Myawaddy, a major trade hub on the border with Thailand.

The UN said the deepening conflict meant that some 18.6 million people in Myanmar were now in need of humanitarian assistance, 1 million more than in 2023.

But it said efforts to reach those in need were being hampered by “gross underfunding”. It said it had so far received less than 5 percent of the funds it needed for humanitarian operations.

“With cyclone season fast approaching, additional resources are needed now to protect the most vulnerable and save lives,” the statement said.

Last year, UN human rights chief Volker Turk accused the military of preventing life-saving humanitarian aid from reaching people in need by creating a web of legal, bureaucratic and financial hurdles.

The generals, who have been accused of launching air attacks on civilians and burning villages to the ground, have ignored a five-point peace plan that it agreed to with fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in April 2021, under which it was supposed to end the violence.

Nearly 5,000 people have been killed by the military since the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which has been tracking the situation. More than 20,000 people are in detention, while Aung San Suu Kyi is serving a combined 27-year sentence after a secret trial in a military court.

Source: Al Jazeera