Social Support Groups Closing in Myanmar Due to Junta Violence, Lack of Funds

Groups offering emergency medical services and help with funerals are closing around Myanmar amid a drop in funds and with volunteers targeted by junta forces for assisting anti-coup protesters injured in army and police crackdowns, sources said Thursday.

Many benevolent charity group members are now in hiding, with offices shutting down in cities and towns across the country.

“We’re caught between the opposing sides,” said an official of one aid group working in Myanmar’s commercial hub and former capital Yangon, speaking to RFA. “Some people see us as their enemy because we don’t see eye-to-eye with them on everything.”

“So we have a lot of difficulties in our work,” he said.

More than 200 relief groups with more than 500 ambulances operate in Yangon alone, with free funeral services offered by 50 associations in the larger Yangon region, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

State-run Myawaddy and MRTV news outlets have accused ambulance crews of blocking roads and carrying weapons, though, and junta troops and police now monitor all ambulance traffic, the official said.

On March 3, police in riot gear attacked protesters in Yangon’s North Okkalapa township, shooting dead at least 11 civilians. Six members of two charitable relief groups were also beaten, and their vehicles were destroyed.

After volunteers from Yangon’s Free Funeral Services Association (FFSA) put out fires set during the clash and assisted civilians injured in the fighting, troops raided the Association office and destroyed property inside, also wrecking cars parked outside the building, sources said.

“Around 30 people were inside the office when the troops came in and beat them,” one Association employee said, adding, “We were all forced to flee. I don’t know how many may have been arrested.”

FFSA chairman Kyaw Thu has now been charged with “defaming the military” under Section 505(a) of Myanmar’s Penal Code, sources say.

Fewer groups left to help

Only 10 funeral service groups are now left in Yangon to help the city’s poor, an official from one group said. “There are only five big groups and five smaller ones left, and we have to take care of about 45 funerals each day,” he said.

In Monywa, the largest city in Myanmar’s Sagaing region, authorities have placed restrictions on the movement of ambulances, warning crews they will be fired on if they ignore the rules, while in Mawlamyaing, Mudon, and other cities, the operators of ambulances and hearses have been told their vehicles will be seized if they are not properly registered.

In south-central Myanmar’s Bago region meanwhile, a member of one charitable group was arrested for building a memorial shrine for the victims of violence, while many of the members of the region’s 17 charitable organizations have gone into hiding, sources said.

A lack of supporting funds is also now hindering the work of aid groups, the chairman of the Yangon Region Humanitarian Relief Group said, adding, “It is difficult at present to withdraw money from the banks, and our usual donors can’t afford to do anything more because of their own financial difficulties.”

Many groups have now silenced their phones and closed their offices in the current crisis, sources say.

Source: Radio Free Asia