Interview

Myanmar’s Revolution Must Succeed: NUG Humanitarian Minister

By The Irrawaddy 28 April 2022

Myanmar’s military regime has killed civilians, torched houses and looted valuables in resistance hot spots across the country.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced by fighting and Dr. Win Myat Aye, the humanitarian affairs and disaster management minister in the shadow National Unity Government (NUG), recently talked to The Irrawaddy about how his team is helping displaced people.

The former rector of the Magwe University of Medicine served as the social welfare, relief and resettlement minister in the National League for Democracy government before the 2021 coup.

Many people have been left homeless by junta raids. How is the NUG taking care of civil war victims?

Many places are suffering from violence and Kayah, Chin, Sagaing and Magwe have been hit hardest. We are working to ease their plight.

According to the UNHCR, around 566,100 people have been recently displaced by fighting. It is difficult for us to help all of them. So far we have reached 354,194 people.

We have provided 2.7 billion kyats (US$1.4 million) in relief aid and 62 percent of that was given to Kayah, Karen, Chin, Sagaing and Magwe. We are trying to expand our outreach and cover all the areas.

How is the NUG cooperating with residents and ethnic organizations?

Some 14.4 million people are going hungry across the country. We have only been able to help a small percentage. The NUG alone can’t handle it. The process calls for cooperation. Most of the war victims are in ethnic-minority areas and along the borders. So it is critically important for us to cooperate with ethnic organizations.

When we provide assistance, we need to reach social organizations that can work with us. There are organizations networked with ethnic revolutionary groups and ethnic organizations. We need a coordination committee to network with those organizations.

A coordination committee has been formed independently. It was not formed by the NUG and it is not operating under the NUG. All the stakeholders suggested that it will be effective if community-based organizations and civil society organizations can coordinate relief efforts. So we formed an independent coordination committee.

This committee is working out relief efforts after adopting policies and procedures. We assume that this coordination has enabled us to better serve the people over the past year.

What are the challenges? Can public donations fund the NUG’s relief efforts?

We were empty-handed after we initiated relief efforts. We need funds.

We are the government during the revolution. We rely on the people. The people only have each other. We mainly rely on expats. People have actively helped with boundless goodwill.

Some donors are helping through us and others directly help those in need. Some are helping through social organizations.

Regional countries and the United Nations have called for the delivery of humanitarian assistance through ASEAN. Will the regime listen to their calls?

We can only fulfill some of the many needs of the people so international assistance is necessary. But for now, Myanmar’s people help each other and they haven’t received international assistance. We are paving the way for the delivery of international humanitarian assistance.

ASEAN has formed a humanitarian team for Myanmar which has received huge contributions. The assistance must reach people.

The regime views civilian victims as the enemy. So assistance will not come through the regime. The international community must know how to help the people.

The international community can help through the coordination committee and the NUG. We have international agencies and non-governmental organizations partnering with us. Humanitarian assistance can be provided through them. We can also help them contact community-based civil society organizations to work with.

Financial aid will not reach the people through the regime. The international community has to take a practical approach to help the people.

Social welfare was neglected under previous military regimes but it was pushed to the fore under the NLD government. As a former social welfare minister, what is your assessment of the regime’s social welfare ministry? 

There is a huge gap between the past and present. We were an elected government and we could help people in real-time when they were in trouble. We went to affected areas in person and received their recognition. We were close to the people and provided help to the displaced and ethnic minorities.

But I now realize we could not fully understand their feelings although we met them.

Though we met cordially with displaced people, we did not have a chance to have open discussions with them. It has become obvious now that it was because of military influence in the administration.

The military did not allow us to visit some displacement camps, citing security reasons. It concealed the real situation and suffering from us. This has been clearly revealed by the regime’s violence against the people.

It is difficult for the NUG to carry out relief efforts but we fully understand the feelings of displaced people.

We are very sad about how much they suffered in the past. I want to apologize to them.

The NLD government planned to largely increase the humanitarian budget.

In the past, the defense budget got the lion’s share and humanitarian assistance was underfunded and things have gone back to zero since the coup.

The NUG is helping those affected. But our assistance is very limited because we rely on donations. Our social welfare ministry does a good job but the regime’s ministry fails to provide any services.

We are working with civil society organizations, people’s authorities and people’s defense forces to provide services. There has been greater unity since the revolution started.

What else would you like to say?

Regime troops torch villages, destroyed property, loot belongings and deploy in villages. Residents are forced from their homes into forests and other villages. When junta troops leave, nothing is left.

We are trying to help people and have designed plans. But we need funds. We are holding talks with international organizations to gain funds. There will be results soon.

The most important thing is the revolution must succeed. Everything else can be handled if the revolution succeeds. We keep our eyes fixed on the success of the revolution in whatever step we take. If the revolution succeeds, power will be handed to the people and we will be able to establish the federal democracy which all the people want. We have to remain firm in this revolution and we are propping up the resistance.

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