Human Development Forum Foundation

Human Development Forum Foundation


great :) Jon ShawPeter LehrChristian ScholzRamon C. SevillaAlexander KesperSupruet Thavornyutikarn
HDFF is proud to announce the 4th and last round of HEAT training for 2018 :

REGISTER NOW !!! Stay Safe Hostile Environment Awareness Training (HEAT) 2018-4 from 26-30 November 2018 in Hua Hin / Thailand

Every organization should consider safety and security risk management processes and trainings so that they can improve their duty of care towards employees working outside of headquarters, especially while traveling and in hostile environments. Actual situation developments in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Pakistan are increasingly challenging the DUTY OF CARE obligation of humanitarian organizations.

HDFF - a not-for-profit legal registered training organization in Thailand provides in cooperation with the Asian Institute for Technology (AIT), which also certifies the training with a 3 years valid certificate, a tailor made HEAT training for humanitarians covering most of the actual risks implementing personnel is facing.

Travel security, ambush, First Aid in the Field including AED (with additional certificate), basic fire fighting as well as daily routine work endangered by Active Shooter are parts of the intensive program which also covers aspects of PTSD for humanitarians in the field.

HDFF is looking forward to have your personnel in our courses. This is the last chance for 2018 to get this certificates. Next courses will start in March 2019.

Please distribute in your organization as well as in your networks.

REGISTRATION is STILL OPEN till 08 Nov. 2018. Please register via [email protected] or directly with Mr. Isabelo our Course Coordinator ( [email protected] )

Founded in 2007 HDFF's vision is to the address the needs of communities related to Human Security a

Human Development Forum Foundation is a dedicated educational and research organization, defined by our motto, “knowledge improves life.” We are a Thailand-based independent, non-governmental foundation without any religious or political affiliations. Our research and training staff come from diverse backgrounds including education, business, development, social work, and defense, among others. Wi


Gaza - 39 Aid Workers killed and another 14 injured and that seems just the beginning -- AID WORKERS ARE NOT A TARGET



HDFF team led by Executive Director Bunnarasi Chawansin attended the seminar “Climate Action Day: Gender, Environment and Displacements” hosted by the Gender and Development Studies (GDS) of Asian Institute of Technology (AIT)

On 24 October, HDFF team was invited to attend the Seminar on Climate Action Day: Gender, Environment and Displacements, hosted by the Gender and Development Studies (GDS) of Asian Institute of Technology (AIT). This seminar shed light on the importance of addressing intersectionality when dealing with climate change, gender equality, and displacement both from academic research and practical experience.

Following the Inaugural Session by Prof. Kazuo Yamamoto, the president of Asian Institute of Technology, to show AIT’s commitment to achieving SDG with a special focus on climate
change, gender equality and displacement,, H.E Mr. Miika Tomi, Deputy Head of Mission from the Finland Embassy gave a speech highlighting the importance of interconnection between gender, environment and displacement. He stated that climate change disproportionately affects women and girls, while women can play an important role in contributing to a green society. He also reaffirmed Finland’s commitment to promoting gender equality and sustainable development policies and required collective action to develop inclusive solutions.

Professor Sanjay Chaturvedi, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences from the Department of International Relations at South Asian University in India, gave a speech on the Keynote Paper of En-gendering ‘Anthropocene’: Changing (Counter) Cartographies of (Im)mobilities and Displacements. During the presentation, he showed his key argument and stressed there are gender blind, gender (in)sensitive, gender (un)responsive and gender (non)transformative in real practice. Not only that, he also emphasized the importance of intersectionality in climate change analysis, on how race, ethnicity, nationality, socio-economic status, etc influences how climate change affects oneself. He pointed out the gender bias in the IPCC survey, as well as how some researchers from developing countries felt that they were not being represented enough. Simultaneously, he pointed out a climate change report from ‘global south’ being able to represent gender lens better. Thus, he proposed the development of an IPCC gender policy and gender-inclusive practice.

The following panel discussion was moderated by Prof. Paula Banerjee from the Center on Gender and Forced Displacement of Gender and Development Studies of Asian Institute of Technology. Focused on the vulnerabilities and resilience of women in climate change, Professor Mokbul Morshed Ahmad shared the challenges and coping strategies of women living in India and Bangladesh. By challenging the concept of “climate change”, she explained how cyclones and salinization destroyed women's livelihoods and how traditional social norms aggregated women's suffering. The next speaker, Dr. Nyi Nyi Kyaw, IDRC Research Chair on Forced Displacement in Southeast Asia at Chiang Mai University in Thailand, spoke of climate change and gender perspectives being neglected in Myanmar at present. He showed great internal displaced and external migrant situations in Shan State, Chin State, Rakhine State and border areas. Due to the difficulty of realizing the current resettlement, repatriation and relocation strategy of refugees, it was important to respect ethical and religious differences to protect every citizen. The last speaker in the morning session, Mr. Voravate Chonlasin, Executive Director of AIT Extension of Asian Institute of Technology shared a case study of highland agriculture (Nan Province) in Thailand. He talked about how gender and social inclusion were being considered in climate-smart agriculture in the current project.

In the after session, Ms. Rebecca Napier-Moore from ILO in Asia and the Pacific shared the stories of how gender inequality and climate degradation led to female displacement. She also presented the gaps in intersectionality from the perspective of knowledge, policy, and green jobs and highlighted the importance of addressing the vulnerability brought by climate change. In the last session, Dr. Philippe Doneys moderated several presentations by young scholars, followed by the awarding of prizes by Dr. Ekbordin Winijkul.

HDFF would like to thank AIT for the hospitality to attend this seminar and is looking forward to joining other events hosted by AIT.

Myanmar's exiled media outlets keep reporting from next door 23/10/2023

Myanmar - media are still trained and report from the inside.

Myanmar's exiled media outlets keep reporting from next door
Journalists stand up to military regime, but financial sustainability a concern

October 15, 2023

MAE SOT, Thailand -- Toe Zaw Latt, a senior journalist with Mizzima, an independent Myanmar media outlet, has been based in Thailand since September last year, conducting training programs for journalists in a "liberated area" in the mountains on the Myanmar-Thailand border.

"We receive the journalists from all over the country, and we train them in person. They stay in one location, and then they will go back and use their knowledge. We [provide] training for basic journalism, mobile journalism, fact-checking and so on," Toe Zaw Latt said.

So far, he has organized four training sessions with 15 journalists each. "Some have mother organization, some will become citizen journalists, but all are from inside Myanmar," he added.

The border area is often controlled by ethnic armed organizations that cooperate with pro-democracy forces. Therefore, crossing the border without knowledge of the authorities is not easy, but not impossible.

Since the February 2021 military takeover, many of Myanmar's independent media outlets, including Mizzima, have relocated to Thailand or other neighboring countries. Journalists were targeted in the military crackdown on pro-democracy groups. Although they have moved their editorial bases out of the country, these media outlets have maintained their reporting on ongoing tensions in the country.

"One foot in, one foot out strategy," said Toe Zaw Latt. "Most of the information gathering is happening inside [Myanmar], while workflow for packaging and going on air outside."

He said independent media have maintained a network of undercover reporters who are active across Myanmar, from the commercial capital, Yangon, to rural areas.

"Journalists are always working in small units. Only need-to-know basis, even who you are working with," he said. "So that, even if one from the network got arrested, that cannot be linked to others. The majority would stay inside Myanmar gathering and carrying the news."

This is not the first time that Myanmar's independent media have endured repression: Outlets like Mizzima, Democratic Voice of Burma and Irrawaddy were founded outside Myanmar in the 1990s during the former military regime and were dubbed "media in exile."

After the transition to civilian rule in 2011, when President Thein Sein took power, they were invited by the government to move back to Myanmar. Less than 10 years later, however, the 2021 military takeover forced them back into exile.

Over the past decade, smartphones and social media platforms have spread, enabling anyone to convey information. After the latest putsch, many small media organizations operating on social media were created to report on developments in Myanmar.

Life for dissident journalists is not easy: They frequently face threats from pro-military groups, which expose journalists' personal information on the Telegram messaging app. Myanmar's current rulers have been harsher than previous military governments, pressuring journalists by arresting their family members and seizing parents' homes.

"Recently a few of parents' house were given notice that [the authority] would seize the properties. There are a lot of cases," Toe Zaw Latt said.

A 40-year-old journalist who worked for an independent media outlet was arrested in March 2021 and convicted of incitement. He was released a year and a half later, then fled to Mae Sot in northwestern Thailand, where many exiles live, and resumed his work.

"When I was interrogated after my arrest, one held in the same room called my name and pleaded, 'Please help me. I can't breathe,'" he recollected with tears in his eyes. "When there was someone died during the interrogation, the police forced me to tell the victim's family that the police had not mistreated them," he said. "I can't tolerate any more this unfair coup."

During the National League for Democracy administration led by pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, he also covered the government's shortcomings.

"There was a former NLD senior member who advise me to go to a location safer place. I told him that 'even we are on the same side now, I would pursue the corruption of your party after Myanmar returned to democracy.' He said, 'That is fine, I fully understand.'"

"We know that the revolution will take long time. I am not a kind of person going to hold guns, but instead hold the pen and keep continue the reporting", he said.

The military's repression has been severe, but Myanmar's independent journalists are determined to resist. The question is whether they can sustain themselves financially.

"We were able to cover half of our coverage costs with advertising revenues. But that has gone overnight. Independent media become donor-dependent again," said Toe Zaw Latt. Even such funding, mostly from the Western countries, is also drying out as the world's focus has shifted to the Ukraine crisis.

Some criticize international news organizations for taking advantage of local journalists' desire to report on Myanmar's issues, asking for their help with news gathering but not paying them enough to compensate for the risks involved. The ethics and responsibilities of foreign media should be also questioned.

Myanmar's exiled media outlets keep reporting from next door Journalists stand up to military regime, but financial sustainability a concern


HDFF MEAL - Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability & Learning Training 2023
From October 16th to 20th, 2023, HDFF conducted a Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability & Learning training at the Gold Orchid Hotel in Bangkok. The training focused on monitoring and
evaluation in development projects. Participants hailed from various countries, including Bangladesh, South Korea, Ethiopia, the Philippines, China, Indonesia, and Thailand.
To provide participants with a comprehensive understanding of monitoring and evaluation, the training covered not only these topics but also other relevant areas in project
management. After a brief introduction from each participant to better understand their background, the training commenced with a discussion on leadership in project management. Subsequently, an extensive segment on logframe analysis (LFA) followed.
LFA is crucial not only for project management but also for monitoring and evaluation. To ensure that participants grasped the LFA concept, a scenario based case study was introduced, and participants were tasked with creating the LFA for the case study. As a complementary topic to enhance understanding of LFA, a safety and security module was also provided. Following the conclusion of the LFA segment, the training proceeded with a discussion on
monitoring and evaluation planning, where participants were tasked with creating a monitoring and evaluation plan for the provided case study. Additionally, participants received basic training on budgeting to better understand how MEAL may influence the budgeting process. Lastly, there was information about the future of MEAL, including the potential use of BLOCKCHAIN technology in MEAL. HDFF expresses its gratitude to all the participants for their enthusiastic involvement and
wishes them the best in their future endeavours.
For more information on HDFF's training program please contact [email protected]

Photos from Human Development Forum Foundation's post 17/10/2023

HDFF in Bangkok - after a nice sunrise another working day for HDFF Executive Director Bunnarasi Chawansin :)

Photos from Human Development Forum Foundation's post 16/10/2023

HDFF Executive Director Bunnarasi Chawansin busy this week welcoming participants from Ethiopia, Korea, Bangladesh and HDFF Team with members from China, Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand.....


HDFF news : Bangkok 13 October 2023. Executive Director Ms. Bunnarasi Chawansin (center) visited WHITE LOTUS publisher Mr. Diethard Ande (left) who cooperated in several publications and public events of HDFF during the long lasting friendship. Here also with Dr. Wilfried A. Herrmann (right) who is the author of the book "Maritime Strategies in Asia". Remark: Mr. Ande is now 85 years old and still very smart and active traveling around the world. Hattip old friend !!

Photos from EU Civil Protection & Humanitarian Aid's post 06/10/2023

EU Civil Protection & Humanitarian Aid approach - a well thought through approach.

Photos from Human Development Forum Foundation's post 04/10/2023

HDFF BREAKING NEWS : as of 01 October 2023 HDFF has a newly appointed Executive Director to finalize the past-COVID restructure and re-starting process. Col(ret) Bunnarasi Chanwansin joined HDFF after a distinguished military career in civil-military affairs. She will be a great asset and leader to guide HDFF team into the future.

Here the message of the newly appointed Executive Director:
เริ่มบทบาทใหม่ กับการรับตำแหน่งเป็น Executive Director ของ มูลนิธิไทย ที่ดำเนินการมา 16 ปี มีสถาบัน Human Development Training Center (HDTC) ที่มุ่งเน้นการฝึกอบรมด้านต่างๆ ทั้ง Security Training, Leadership, Financial, Crisis Management ฯลฯ ด้วยเครือข่ายวิทยากรผู้มีประสบการณ์ทั้งไทยและต่างชาติ
ก็คงต้องปรับตัวและเรียนรู้อะไรอีกหลายอย่างกับเส้นทางใหม่นี้ ทีมงานมีกันไม่เยอะ แต่อยู่กันแบบครอบครัว เพื่อนๆ ที่สนใจอยากจะสอบถามเรื่องหลักสูตรต่างๆ ก็สามารถดูรายล… See more
Start a new role with being appointed as Executive Director of Thai Foundation that has been operating for 16 years. There is Human Development Training Center (HDTC) that focuses on training in various areas such as Security Training, Leadership, Financial, Crisis Management, etc. with a network of Thai and foreign experienced speakers.
I have to adapt and learn a lot of things with this new path. We don't have a lot of team members, but we are like a family. Friends who are interested to inquire about various courses can see details at FB: Human Development Forum Foundation or ask via the microphone.
Cheer up for Patty. My new path has just begun !!

How China Approaches Military Crises and the Implications for Crisis Management 30/09/2023

China -military decision making -a important topic for all scholars and interested people

📚 Fresh off the press!
David Santoro, President of Pacific Forum, sheds light on China's approach to military crises in a new volume by The National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR).
This chapter is essential reading for policymakers, experts, and scholars interested in understanding China's perspectives and its impact on crisis avoidance and management, particularly for the U.S. 🌏
📖 Get the full chapter here:

How China Approaches Military Crises and the Implications for Crisis Management Beijing does not think that nuclear escalation would be controlled in a crisis or armed conflict between the U.S. and China.

Unmasking Myanmar's silent civil war - The untold battle for democracy | DW Documentary 21/09/2023

Myanmar - a worthwhile to watch DW documentation timely on the International Day for Peace (21 Sept)

Unmasking Myanmar's silent civil war - The untold battle for democracy | DW Documentary Myanmar's struggle for democracy has received little international attention. But it is dramatic: in 2021, more than 6,000 people were reported dead after pr...

The shuffling of the cards; the emergence of a new world order - Pearls and Irritations 20/09/2023

Global South -- time for a new world order ?

The shuffling of the cards; the emergence of a new world order

By John Queripel
Jul 6, 2023

Over the next two months, two crucial meetings, indicating the massive changes the geo-political order is undergoing, are taking place.

The first of these saw India host a summit of the Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in a virtual format on July 4.

A month later the 15th BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) Summit of heads of state will be held in Johannesburg.

Little will be made of these meetings in the jingoistic western media, despite their immense significance.

For over two centuries Western powers have dominated the world, economically, militarily and politically. That rule, currently often called ‘the rules based international order,’ is largely viewed as natural in the West, though in the long view of history, where the East, particularly China and India, has been dominant it is an aberration.

Those nations lie at the core of both the SCO and BRICS.

These organisations represent a direct challenge, daresay threat, to the Western hegemonic powers, of Europe and the U.S., grouped in the G7. The SCO and BRICS, in terms of Purchasing Power Parity, are now larger than the G7, (whose share of global GDP has fallen from nearly 70 percent in 1989 to 44 percent in 2022), with that difference only increasing.

Projections, using Purchasing Power Parity, among them, Standard and Chartered, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and the Lowy Institute show that within the next decades China’s economy will far outstrip that of the U.S. whose economy, so dominant in the past century, will fall to number 3 by 2030, behind a resurgent China and India. Indonesia, being projected to be at number 4, makes clear how economic power has swung from the West to the East.

Halford Mackinder in his book, ‘Democratic Ideals and Reality,’ published in 1919 wrote, ‘who rules the Heartland commands the World Island; and who commands the World Island commands the world.’ By the World Island he meant the land mass extending from Europe to Asia and Africa. This is the locus of the SCO.

Along with China and India the organisation includes Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, and Russia. It has successfully drawn nations together, understood in the West largely by their enmity, India and Pakistan, India, and China, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan.

The SCO now accounts for about 80% of Eurasia’s territory and over 30% of global GDP.

Other Eurasian nations have observer status, Afghanistan, Iran, Mongolia, and Belarus, while an extensive list of nations have dialogue status, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Egypt, Nepal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, and Turkey. Tellingly, included are Saudi Arabia, a close U.S. ally, and Turkey, a NATO member.

Iran has signed a memorandum of obligations paving the way for its accession to full SCO membership, with Belarus also submitting a membership application.

The SCO clearly represents a threat to the world’s leading hegemon, U.S. policymakers believing, ‘a regional hegemon in Eurasia would represent a concentration of power large enough to be able to threaten vital U.S. interests.’

The rapidly changing world order is also seen in the emergence of the BRICS initiative. The existing nations could be joined by Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, Argentina, and Egypt, whose membership bids are pending at the upcoming summit in South Africa.

Representing 42% of the global population, and nearly one third of the world’s GDP, the BRICS nations are developing a basket-based reserve currency, national digital currencies, and blockchain technology to support intensified cross-border economic interactions.

Most of this change has been Chinese led, leadership is also seen in other initiatives such as the Belt and Road Initiative, now with 150 nations involved, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which like the BRI was established in 2013, and the Silk Road Fund.

In recent months Chinese President Xi Jinping has announced another three global initiatives; The Global Security Initiative, the Global Development Initiative and most recently the Global Civilisation Initiative.

The U.S. led unipolar world, present for the past 30 years, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, is being challenged by the emergence of new organisations and networks. The unipolar world as ‘the end of history’ with eternal Western triumph, declared so confidently by Francis Fukuyama at the end of the Cold War, has proved to be short-lived.

This big story, however, will find little place in ‘the white man’s’ media.

As a U.S. songwriter wrote. ‘the times they are a-changing.’

John Queripel is a Newcastle-based historian, theologian, social commentator and published author of three books

The shuffling of the cards; the emergence of a new world order - Pearls and Irritations Over the next two months, two crucial meetings, indicating the massive changes the geo-political order is undergoing, are taking place.

After fleeing the war at home, refugees from Myanmar are now trapped in India’s conflict 20/09/2023

Myanmar - often overlooked the refugee situation in Manipur (India)

After fleeing the war at home, refugees from Myanmar are now trapped in India’s conflict

Violent nationalism in India’s border state of Manipur has been supercharged by the Myanmar coup, with refugees branded as illegal immigrants and terrorists
Gavin Butler
August 29, 2023

On the rare occasion that Zaw Win leaves the safe house, he wastes no time getting what he needs. These are necessary excursions: his wife and young son depend on him to gather food and water for their survival.

But in Manipur, even a trip to the market is never a safe bet. One seemingly innocuous misstep can get a person killed.

For more than three months, this small northeast Indian state has been at war with itself, wracked by a conflict that has killed at least 180 people, wounded at least 400 others, and displaced more than 54,000. Homes and ambulances have been set alight, children orphaned, women r***d. Victims’ corpses have been mutilated beyond recognition. After decades of tension, political disharmony between the majority Meitei and minority Kuki ethnic communities has boiled over into near unprecedented bloodshed.

Zaw Win, 41, is neither Kuki nor Meitei. He is a refugee from Myanmar who came to India hoping to escape the indiscriminate violence in his homeland. But in Moreh, a small border town on Manipur’s eastern fringe, he has found himself embroiled in yet another crisis – where warring groups, armed variably with machine guns and homemade rifles, have been known to kill one another in the streets.

On August 5, three Meiteis and two Kukis were killed in separate shootings—just days after a Manipuri armoury was looted of hundreds of guns and tens of thousands of rounds of ammo. Less than two weeks later, after what had seemed like a rare ceasefire, things erupted once more when armed men killed three village patrol guards in a Kuki village near a Meitei-dominated district.

“Manipur is a very dangerous area,” Zaw Win, who has been given a pseudonym for his safety, told Myanmar Now. “That’s why, even for food, we go out once every four days, sometimes [once] a week. Even for that we are afraid.”

It is not just for fear of becoming a collateral casualty that Zaw Win spends such little time outdoors. In recent months, he and the thousands of other refugees sheltering in Manipur have become active targets, as some of the more extreme figureheads within the Meitei community have labelled them “illegal immigrants” and “narco terrorists” in an attempt to justify their campaign of territorial violence.

“We don’t have any protection on either side right now,” he said. “So we are out of hope to survive here. That’s all I can say.”

While it remains unclear to what extent these threats of violence have been acted on against the refugee community, the danger is real—and so are Zaw Win’s fears of persecution.

Earlier this year, a special commando group carried out door-to-door raids across Moreh and arrested at least 170 refugees, according to aid group India For Myanmar. Such active targeting by Indian authorities in the borderlands has forced many to abandon their shelters and seek refuge in the surrounding jungle. Some, however, have gone even further: back across the border, into Myanmar.

We don’t have any protection on either side right now… So we are out of hope to survive here

– a refugee from Myanmar, living in Manipur
“When [the police] find empty shelters, they ask why they are empty, whether they were the homes of Myanmar refugees, and the owners’ whereabouts,” one Myanmar national told Radio Free Asia in March. “They order the village chiefs not to let the refugees stay and to drive them back to where they came from.”

The brink of civil war

The decades-old dispute between the Meitei and Kuki peoples is channelled along ethnogeographic lines. The Meiteis—who are majority Hindus—predominantly live in Manipur’s Imphal Valley, which sits at the centre of the state and hosts the eponymous capital. The surrounding hills, which make up 90 percent of the state, are mostly populated by the Kuki and Naga groups—both of them largely Christian.

Each side has its reasons for discontent. The Meitei, who dominate Manipur’s political establishment, do not currently enjoy Scheduled Tribe status, a designation that is typically granted to some of the most disadvantaged socio-economic groups in India, including the Kuki. Therefore, the Meitei have not been legally allowed to expand their territory into the state’s hill districts. Many Kuki, meanwhile, believe they are being unfairly targeted by the Meitei-dominated government’s handling of indigenous land rights issues, which has seen them arbitrarily evicted from state-owned forests and vilified as illegal immigrants and poppy farmers.

The temperature rose sharply in April, when the Manipur High Court ordered the state government to recommend that the Meitei be granted inclusion in the Scheduled Tribes. This demand was criticised by Kuki groups, who believed it would enable the Meitei to secure even more power and make state-sanctioned inroads into the hills. Peaceful protests quickly turned violent, with interethnic clashes breaking out in the streets, and police attempts to quell the riots by way of truncheons and tear gas failed.

The bloodshed rapidly escalated, and by early May, the powder keg had exploded.

Entire villages have since been burned to the ground, forcing thousands of Manipuri residents, both Meitei and Kuki, to seek shelter in neighbouring communities. Reports of stabbings, shootings, and lynchings, as well as gunfights between armed militias on both sides, have proliferated. Schools and workplaces have been closed, internet access has been restricted, and the Indian army has been deployed with orders to shoot on sight.

It is a crisis that has caught the attention of troubled onlookers around the world. Yet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose party governs Manipur, has mostly refused to address the spiralling ethnic violence. The so-called “messiah of the poor” only broke his near silence on August 10, after the opposition party tabled a vote of no confidence against him.

“The country is with you. We will sit together and find a solution to the current challenge to restore peace and put Manipur on the path of development,” he assured the hundreds of thousands of people entangled in the conflict.

Others are less optimistic, with some describing the situation as being close to a civil war. In a report published in June, the United States Institute of Peace labelled the ongoing battery of atrocities as “some of the worst [violence] witnessed in the state in decades,” noting how “decades of deep distrust and historical hurt have polarised Indigenous communities across the region… [which] features multiple conflicting claims to ethnic and communal homelands – and armed insurgent groups to defend those claims.”

Political scapegoats

This is the firestorm Zaw Win now finds himself in, less than three years after uprooting his life and fleeing Myanmar’s civil war. In a place that has declared its hostility toward perceived interlopers, he knows that, if captured by either the authorities or the Meitei vigilantes, he could easily become another statistic in Manipur’s climbing death toll. But the alternative is just as worrisome: that he might be sent back to the very country he fought so hard to escape.

It has been more than two years since he crossed the Indo-Myanmar border with his wife and son, on the back of a motorbike that trafficked him out of one nightmare and into another. For him, he said, it “feels like yesterday.”

On an early morning in May 2021, the first army vehicles loaded with soldiers from the Myanmar junta trundled towards the gates of the university in Mandalay where Zaw Win worked. The staff had been expecting them. It had been more than three months since the military had toppled the country’s democratically elected government and started waging a renewed war against its own people. Dozens of protesters formed a civilian blockade in front of the only gate into the university, hoping—by way of nonviolent resistance—to deter the troops from forcefully entering the campus.

“After about one hour,” Zaw Win recalled, “another five trucks full of soldiers arrived at the gate. Then, without any announcement, they started using smoke bombs and [rubber] bullets. They started shooting. They broke the gates down and arrested almost 40 staff, including a very senior professor, and in front of me they beat [him] senseless.”

Zaw Win left Mandalay that same day, fleeing via a predetermined escape route. He had been labelled a person of interest—if the military caught him, he would be arrested, jailed, and potentially killed. Along with his wife and then 18-month-old son, he gathered what supplies he could and made the 320km journey northwest through the Myanmar borderlands to India. There, with the aid of locals on the other side of the border, they crossed into Manipur.

During those first three months in India, Zaw Win and his family lived in “silence” without setting foot outside. When he did finally emerge, he recalled being struck by the region’s rich diversity: how the Meitei, Kuki, and other ethnic denominations all seemed to live amicably with one another.

Eventually, he discovered that Manipur was less a melting pot than a pressure cooker.

“Tribes like Kuki, Meitei, and other different races staying together: at first I thought this was beautiful. But in reality there are some very big problems,” Zaw Win said.

When violence erupted and agitators started setting fire to houses, vehicles, and places of worship in the capital of Imphal, he realised that the state was a “very complex and very dangerous area.”

For people like Zaw Win, it is doubly so. Amid soaring ethnic tensions in Manipur, members of the Meitei community and the state government have turned refugees from Myanmar into political scapegoats, beating the drums of xenophobia and nationalism and stirring up fears around illegal immigration and narco terrorism.

‘More indigenous than the other’

“It’s a very deliberate ploy to use the refugee influx to discredit genuine Kuki grievances against the government in Manipur,” Angshuman Choudhury, an associate fellow at India’s Centre for Policy Research and an analyst specialising in Myanmar, northeast India, and armed conflict, told Myanmar Now. “Finally, when all of [the Kuki’s legitimate grievances] bubbled up, reached a peak, and they protested, the Manipur government—instead of addressing those concerns—pushed back using this illegal immigrants narrative.”

This phenomenon is not new: Manipur’s ethnic disharmonies have long centred around competing claims of indigeneity and hot-blooded resentment of perceived encroachers. As Anna Charenamei, a member of the Young Tribal Women’s Network who has been doing relief work for the displaced people in Manipur, put it: “Everyone wants to be more indigenous than the other.”

“Whether it’s in the Naga Hills or the Imphal Valley, there is this fear of new refugees coming in,” Charenamei told Myanmar Now. “There is already a lack of resources and there’s a lot of insecurity towards land, [so] people are not looking at it from a humanitarian aspect.”

By lumping the Kuki and the Myanmar refugees together and accusing them of being illegitimate invaders of an ethnostate, however, Choudhury pointed out that the Meitei nationalists have “mixed historical migration with new migration and created this very toxic, xenophobic mishmash.”

In this way, the Manipur conflict has been supercharged by Myanmar’s February 1, 2021 coup, when the military set in motion a series of events that forced thousands of citizens like Zaw Win to flee their homes. If sections of Manipur’s Meitei community already harboured feelings of nationalism, xenophobia, and insecurity before, the influx of displaced persons—especially those from Myanmar’s Chin State and Sagaing Region, who have strong ties with Manipur’s Kuki population—fanned those blazes into an inferno.

Fuelling these anxieties is the fear mongering rhetoric spouted by Nongthombam Biren Singh, chief minister of Manipur, who has repeatedly laid blame for his state’s spiralling conflict at the feet of Myanmar immigrants, or, as Choudhury said, “weaponizing the influx as a way to divide and rule.”

“Illegal immigrants are trying to create unrest in the state, a situation I had predicted 10 years ago. Poppy cultivation has been growing, and there has been a rise in drug trafficking too,” chief minister Singh recently told the media. “My government wants to cull out the illegal immigrants who are involved in drug trafficking and terrorism. The fact that the illegal immigrants belong to the Kuki community doesn’t make all Kukis bad.”

It is worth noting that there are legitimate cases of transnational crime taking place in the India-Myanmar borderlands, including drug trafficking and arms smuggling, in some cases perpetrated by members of the Kuki community. Also notable is the fact that because India is not a signatory to the 1951 international convention on refugee rights, anyone who arrives into the country without required documentation is automatically classified by authorities as an “illegal migrant”—making them easy targets for xenophobic nationalists.

As Choudhury points out, the finger-pointing is a conscious ploy by Meitei figures to reanimate a hostile fear of the “other.” For refugees who are already fleeing persecution, he added, this has made things “incredibly dangerous.”

“People are fleeing, but not out of choice, out of extreme compulsion, because that’s the closest area they could flee to,” he said. “We’ve come down to a very absurd, bizarre situation where probably they would be better off in Myanmar than in Manipur in some ways.”

Caught in these parallel conflicts, people like Zaw Win are now being forced to decide which side of the border harbours the lesser evil: Myanmar, where the military is committing widespread systematic scorched earth campaigns against civilian communities across the country, or Manipur, where the government has put a bullseye on refugees’ backs.

“Right now they are targeting and complaining about us, [saying that] these Myanmar refugees are the main reason for this conflict,” said Zaw Win. “It’s very bad. That’s why we feel we are unsafe: because the local government is targeting us for their political gain.”

This targeting has become literal in recent months, as Manipur authorities, following instruction from India’s Union Ministry of Home Affairs, have started collecting the biographic and biometric details of thousands of refugees from Myanmar: their fingerprints, eyes, face, and voice. The exercise is intended to help with identification purposes, and must be completed by September 30. But many, including aid workers and human rights activists, fear the data could lead to arrests and deportation.

“We are afraid this data will be shared between the government and the [junta], because some refugees are wanted people by the military,” Zaw Win said. “Right now we are so worried… we don’t know what we can do.”

That’s why we feel we are unsafe: because the local government is targeting us for their political gain

– a refugee from Myanmar, living in Manipur

The insider-outsider dynamic in Manipur has manifested in ways that may be eerily familiar to Western onlookers. Cutting through a 10km stretch of the India-Myanmar borderlands is a semi-completed structure of steel and barbed wire: a fence, built by India’s Ministry of Defence in collaboration with the state government, that aims to seal off the 400-km border separating the two countries.

This photo from 2011 shows Indo-Myanmar International border fencing Moreh a border town in India’s northeastern state of Manipur bordering Myanmar’s Tamu town (EPA/STR)
While the foundations for this fence were laid as early as 2005, its perceived importance gained renewed enthusiasm in 2022 as refugees from Myanmar continued to steadily enter Manipur. Choudhury noted how the border had been gradually militarised over the past 12 months, and the ways in which Manipuri authorities had been exploiting fears around transnational crime to reinforce the boundary and further entrench division.

“[Manipuri authorities] continue to insist that the Kuki-dominated border areas are plagued by drug smuggling and poppy cultivation,’” said Choudhury. “And that becomes a cover for this sort of fencing that spills beyond the security needs.”

“Ultimately, it is equivalent to the aggressive rhetoric around wall-making that we have seen in other territorial contexts, such as in the case of the US-Mexico border.”

On April 27, Manipur governor Anusuiya Uikey visited Moreh—the same town where Zaw Win is in hiding—to inspect the integrity of Manipur’s barrier, and to personally thank the border guards for their efforts to patrol it.

“We are proud of our security forces who have been working round the clock for our safety,” Uikey said at the time. “Although anti-social elements, drug smugglers, and militants have been trying to disturb peace from across the border, our security forces are strong enough to foil their attempts at any cost.”

Such rhetoric echoes American ex-President Donald Trump’s 2019 address, in which he announced plans for his now infamous United States-Mexico border wall to curb “uncontrolled, illegal migration” and the flow of “illegal drugs” into the US.

Demarcated by British colonists in 1826 without local consultation or consent, the Indo-Myanmar border has been contentious from the beginning, effectively dividing longstanding communities into two distinct nationalities: Indian and Burmese. While many in the interior view themselves as indisputably distinct from their neighbours in Myanmar, the borderlands are more variegated and fluid. Many people living there, including the Kuki, have family on either side.

This is one of the reasons why the Indian and Myanmar governments mutually agreed in 2018 to establish the Free Movement Regime: an arrangement that allows communities living along either side of the border to travel up to 16km inside the other country without a visa. In many ways antithetical to the idea of a border fence, the Regime aims to facilitate people-to-people contact, local trade, and business between Indian and Myanmar border communities. Amid the ongoing conflict, however, the Singh government has elected to temporarily suspend it in a bid to stop border crossings.

By contrast, the shared kinship and cultural ties across the Indo-Myanmar borderlands is the reason why Mizoram, the Indian state that neighbours Manipur to the south and similarly hugs Myanmar’s western flank, refused to support the border fence or allot land for its construction: namely, because doing so would give material reality to a boundary that so many local people view as immaterial, and divide communities who have long benefitted from a porous perimeter.

“The Mizoram government said, ‘Look: it’s our brothers and sisters; we have family ties across the border. There’s no way we are going to let you fence the border,’” Choudhury explained. “Manipur was different. Manipur said, ‘Yeah, we’ll fence the border. We want the border to be securitised.’”

It is a stark contrast that highlights the different ideological positions between the two states. This too is reflected in Singh’s “illegal influx” rhetoric and that of Mizoram chief minister Zoramthanga, who has expressed support for refugees from Myanmar and penned a letter to Prime Minister Modi insisting that the nation not turn a “blind eye to this humanitarian crisis.”

It also goes some way towards explaining their wildly different immigrant populations. While official figures are hard to come by, figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) indicate that there are upwards of 40,000 Myanmar refugees currently sheltering in Mizoram, mostly from Chin State and Sagaing Region, and having largely entered since the coup. In Manipur, there are reportedly around 8,250.

The other side

Zaw Win has friends and family who have made the journey to neighbouring Mizoram, and said many have asked him why he does not do the same. Yet despite the dangers to both him and his family, he refuses to flee a second time and leave Manipur behind. Since arriving in Moreh, Zaw Win has become a member of the refugee community, working in collaboration with MPs and leaders from the Myanmar side of the border to support the scores of others who are making the crossing and finding themselves in the same situation as him.

“I haven’t considered going anywhere. I have to stay here for the other refugees,” he said. “I cannot leave my [people] here. I want to work for them.”

It is a position that puts him at even greater risk, but as he sees it, he has little choice. He believes that if volunteers like him do not offer support to those who continue to be displaced from Myanmar, no one else will.

“In India there is no body for [managing] refugees in accordance with the policy of UNHCR,” he noted. “In the borderland, especially in Manipur, we cannot request any humanitarian access; on the other side they are arresting us.”

This “other side” of the border remains the greatest fear for Zaw Win, and he isn’t alone. Choudhury pointed out that, beyond the physical threat of harm that Meitei authorities pose, one of the greatest anxieties facing the refugee community in Manipur right now is a “lingering fear of deportation.”

While Manipur may be on the brink of civil war, Myanmar is already in the grips of it. The potential risks on one side of the border are near certainties on the other.

“In Myanmar’s case it is very clear: it is a war between the military and the Myanmar people. But in Manipur, it is very complicated,” Zaw Win said. “Right now for me it’s better to stay in Manipur, because if I go back to Myanmar then definitely the military will arrest me and maybe kill me.”

Given the thousands of people still in Myanmar who find themselves facing a similar danger, it is also a near certainty that, despite the best efforts of the Manipuri authorities, the influx of refugees will continue. Zaw Win, for one, has seen little indication that the situation on either side will improve any time soon.

“I think that both in Myanmar and also Manipur, it will take a lot of time to stabilise.”

Until then, he will remain in Moreh, fighting for those who fled here before him and those still to come.

After fleeing the war at home, refugees from Myanmar are now trapped in India’s conflict Violent nationalism in India’s border state of Manipur has been supercharged by the Myanmar coup, with refugees branded as illegal immigrants and terrorists

ต้องการให้ธุรกิจของคุณ ธุรกิจ ขึ้นเป็นอันดับหนึ่ง องค์กรไม่แสวงหาผลกำไร ใน Bangkok?

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