"FLEEING MY WHOLE LIFE"
Older People’s Experience of Conflict and Displacement in Myanmar
This publication examines the impact of conflict and displacement on older people in areas of Myanmar where the military has undertaken recent operations – operations marred by crimes under international law, as Amnesty International has reported previously. It looks at the specific ways older people are affected by conflict, both in the violations they suffer and the psychosocial impact. There are tens of thousands of older people among the more than one million people displaced within Myanmar or to neighbouring Bangladesh. This publication also analyses how and why humanitarian assistance is falling short in responding to their needs.
Amnesty International undertook three research missions between December 2018 and April 2019 with a focus on older people, including to Kachin and northern Shan States in northern Myanmar; to Rakhine State, in western Myanmar; and to the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. In total, Amnesty International interviewed 146 older women and men, as well as at least two dozen people who witnessed the death of an older person during Myanmar military operations. Interviewees were from the ethnic Kachin, Lisu, Rakhine, Rohingya, Shan, and Ta’ang communities; at the time of the interview, the overwhelming majority were displaced from their home to refugee camps in Bangladesh, to internally displaced person (IDP) camps in northern Myanmar, or to makeshift displacement sites. This research also draws from interviews with international and local humanitarian workers in Bangladesh and Myanmar, as well as from written responses that the Bangladesh offices of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) provided to questions that Amnesty International sent at the conclusion of its research.
Older people, like individuals of all social identities, are not homogenous. Many older women and men in the rural borderlands of Myanmar, where most of the country’s conflicts and recent military operations have occurred, provide entirely for their own livelihood and well-being; they farm their fields or fish in nearby creeks, sell goods at market, and support children who remain at home. Other older women and men are housebound, with physical disabilities that require assistance to move around and to eat. In between, there is a spectrum of experience and needs.
Governments and humanitarian organizations need to work together to respect and fulfil everyone’s individual rights; that requires identifying and responding to risks associated with older age, including related to mobility, disability, nutrition, and certain health conditions.
I’ve had to run my whole life, and now I’ve had to run again
“I’ve lived [in the camp] since the beginning of this conflict – since 2011. Fighting occurred in my village; I fled here the third time it happened... Our village is between a KIA post and a Myanmar Army post. We could see the Myanmar Army post. We were so terrified of the soldiers...
It’s been almost eight years that we’ve been here [in the camp]. I have financial difficulties because no one wants us older people to work as cash labourers. We don’t have anywhere to make money. I only receive 15,000 kyats (US$10) per month [in humanitarian assistance].
If possible, I would like to work in shifting cultivation – [cultivating] sweet potato, ginger. That’s the only thing I know how to do. I’ve been doing it my whole life...
I need money and I want to work, but there is no opportunity for me. I feel so depressed. I just borrow money from people when possible. I tell them that they will be old like me some day.
My hand shakes from time to time, and I have a heart condition... There’s basic medical care in the camp, but the only thing they can provide is energy supplement pills and oral medication. They can’t give us the shots we need. And they only provide oral medications when they come [several times a month].”
Older people in the camps... have lost their life savings, their home, their relationships, their skills [relevant to their living situation]. Many of them have lost their adult children.
DEFINITION OF AN “OLDER PERSON”
There is no global definition in international law of what constitutes an “older person”. It has often been defined as age 60 or older, though the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has promoted a context- specific approach, which Amnesty International agrees responds better to individual rights and needs than an arbitrary minimum cut-off. In the Myanmar context, Amnesty International has included some people in their 50s, also taking into account their self-identification as an “older person”.