Myanmar is a multi-ethnic, multilinguistic and multicultural state where democratic development is still in progress. Despite the country’s rich natural resources, Myanmar is one of the least developed countries in Southeast Asia.
A long way towards democratisation
Conflicts between government troops and ethnic armies have continued in Myanmar’s border regions for over half a century. Some of the conflict zones are under the control of the government military whereas others are governed by non-governmental ethnic armies. Myanmar transitioned to civilian governance in 2011 and due to this political reform, the country began to open up economically and politically. The reform also led to partial democratisation, but true change does not happen easily: the peace process is currently in a dead end, social inequality is vast and widespread, and conflicts between ethnic and religious groups continue to displace people both internally as well as across borders.
Since 2017, over 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled the country due to ethnic persecution. The military still wields considerable power in the country, and stable social peace has not been achieved.
Between 2009 and 2014, FRC supported refugees from Myanmar in Thai refugee camps, providing literacy and language education and supporting livelihoods. The majority of the refugees in the camps came from Myanmar’s Kayin and Kayah states.
FRC began operating in Kayah in 2015 and is now expanding activities to Kachin. The shift of operations onto Myanmar was carried out in order to support populations living in long-term conflict zones, internally displaced persons and to support the region’s peaceful development.
Skills and support for a more stable life
In addition to political stability, the peaceful development of society requires support for the well-being of its people: sustainable societies cannot be built without an adequate standard of living and access to education. Nearly half of the population in Myanmar is under the age of 27. A large proportion of young people belonging to ethnic minorities are either unemployed or unskilled, low-paid workers. The level of education is low, and the quality of vocational education is not sufficient to meet the needs of employers.
High unemployment and low levels of education can threaten social stability and jeopardise the transition towards democracy. With the right support, young people can play a key role in the peaceful development of their country.
Finnish Refugee Council in Myanmar
Through its work in Myanmar, FRC strengthens the society by providing support to individuals and to local organisations and social agencies. FRC’s work in Myanmar focuses on four main components:
1. Vocational short courses
FRC organises short courses for young people in Myanmar in order to provide them with employability-improving practical skills, such as masonry and motorcycle repairs. The courses also focus on transferable skills for the workplace, career guidance and internship opportunities. FRC particularly supports the livelihoods of the most disadvantaged women by organising craft skills training, such as sewing courses. Between 2016 and 2018, 651 young people graduated from FRC’s vocational courses and 339 women improved their craft skills and livelihoods.
2. Strengthening civil society
FRC strengthens the capacity of local organisations by providing training, mentoring and funding for activities. The capacity building of the organisations is evaluated and developed together with the organisations. Supporting civil society organisations is particularly important as they can act in a neutral way between the front lines in conflict situations.
3. Supporting youth agency
Young people personal agency is supported through, for example, courses related to leadership, human rights and conflict resolution. The courses are aimed especially at the young people living in conflict zones. Between 2016 and 2018, 1,913 young people participated in such training.
4. Eradicating gender-based violence
FRC supports the prevention of violence against women and support for its victims through its partner organisation KNWO in Kayah state. Those living in remote border regions can be reached by training midwives working in areas governed by ethnic armies, in addition to state health professionals. FRC’s partner organisation KNWO maintains a shelter in the town of Loikaw for victims of sexual violence. The shelter also operates a 24/7 Help Line, which provides support for those who have experienced violence. Police officers and members of ethnic armies are also educated on the prevention of sexual violence against women and on best practices in cases of rape. In 2017 and 2018, over 1,700 women and men received education and support related to gender-based violence.