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Forced to Flee Myanmar - Reflecting on the Crisis in Karenni State

Over the past year, more military attacks have been launched against civilians in Myanmar than in Syria, Yemen, Iraq or Afghanistan – according to figures compiled by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, which also designated the country as the world’s deadliest place to be a protester in 2021.

Fifteen months since the military coup in Myanmar, the Burmese people continue to peacefully challenge the junta’s rule. However, deaths, displacements, humanitarian atrocities, and violence against women also continue. Most impacted are ethnic populations, which have suffered the junta’s brutality for decades. One such group is the Karenni.

When the British annexed Burma in 1824, the Karenni lands were not seized. In 1875, the British government recognized and guaranteed the independence of the Karenni State, saying that the area belonged to neither Burma, nor Great Britain. When Burma later won independence from Great Britain after World War II, Burmese officials incorporated the free Karenni lands into their newly drawn borders, promising that the Karennis could become independent again after 10 years. This never happened. The pursuing conflict turned into a civil war that has lasted nearly 70 years.

Burma's Ethnic States

The Karenni State is the smallest and least populated state in Myanmar, plagued with poverty and lack of development. Over half a century of mistreatment and neglect has left the state with poor infrastructure, inadequate health care, malnutrition and little or no social and economic development. Illiteracy is widespread and the number of schools, teachers and students is the lowest in Myanmar.

Currently, Karenni State is bearing the brunt of the military’s post-coup offensives, including unspeakable violence and displacement. The humanitarian crises has now reached even more desperate levels, as the military utilizes blockages and weaponization of aid to prevent assistance.

Elizabeth’s Story

My Karenni friend, Elizabeth, was born in a refugee camp in Thailand in 1997. Her parents fled Karenni State in 1992 to avoid forced relocation. The Karenni land was extremely fertile, providing income and sustenance for the people. The military’s relocation sites were located in dry mountainous regions not at all conducive to farming. Many Karennis fled to the jungles to avoid relocation, dying of malnutrition and treatable diseases. Elizabeth’s family chose to flee to a Karenni refugee camp in Men Hong Song City on the Thailand/Myanmar border, where they lived for 17 years. They were fortunate to be repatriated to the United States in 2007.

Elizabeth, her two brothers, and parents now live in Washington State, USA. Although they have escaped the horrors of persecution and post-coup violence, they are heartbroken to see their homeland and their cultural identity being devastated.

Historically, craftsmen in Karenni State made beautiful silver jewelry, brass neck rings for the women, lacquerware, and traditional clothing. Favorite Karenni foods included deecha (rice salad), noodles, smoked meat, frog and fish, pork sausage, and khawn, a rice wine served in clay jars. Karenni folktales, such as The Journey of the Kayah People, Why is the Rabbit’s Tail Short?, and The Otter and the Cat, were passed along word of mouth from generation to generation. Are these cultural identities now at risk of being lost to the Karenni, along with their Statehood?

The poem IMAGINE written by Elizabeth expresses her concerns about the loss of her heritage and culture.

Imagine, in the future

what will our Karenni state


Will we still have our mother’s custom and our father’s place? Imagine, in the future who will our Karenni youth become? Will our language and literature still exist? Imagine, in the future who will our future generations become? Will love, peace, and freedom remain with them? Imagine. by Elizabeth R.

Do you want to help the Karenni people?

Many people do not know of Myanmar. Share this news with them! Share it with your elected officials and encourage them to recognize Myanmar’s National Unity Government as the legitimate governing body. The humanitarian crisis in Myanmar is severe.

Educational Empowerment is still able to transfer funds into the country, albeit through a backdoor mechanism. If you would like to support the Karenni and other displaced families with food, medical supplies, blankets, phones, etc., please consider one of the following organizations. All are able to deliver items into the hands of the people.

  • SupportMyanmar

  • Educational Empowerment

  • Girl Determined

  • Helping the Burmese Delta

  • Better Burma

Educational Empowerment is a member of Girls’ Globe. View all our posts on here.


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