Background to Burma

Burma (also known as Myanmar) is a largely rural, densely forested country of rich resources. It is the world's largest exporter of teak and a principal source of jade, pearls, rubies and sapphires. It is endowed with extremely fertile soil and has important offshore oil and gas deposits. However, its people remain very poor and its economy is riddled with corruption.

Burma achieved independence from Britain in 1948. Since then there has been almost uninterrupted civil war between the central government and the ethnic minorities which make up about one third of the total population of approximately 55 million. Burma has been ruled by military regimes from 1962 to 2011 which have restricted democracy, freedom of speech, jailed over 2,000 prisoners of conscience, and caused the deaths of thousands. The current, nominally civilian, regime was installed in March 2011 though it remains dominated by the military. This is a critical time in the country's history and there is opportunity for change. While over 600 political prisoners have been released and there is talk of ceasefires there is much more that still needs to be done.

The religious persecution in Burma is among the worst in the world and is part of a wider pattern of gross human rights violations, including systematic rape, forced labour, human minesweepers, forcible relocation of civilians, and the destruction of villages and crops. There are over one million internally displaced people and over one million refugees who have fled the country. There is continual environmental destruction, an HIV/AIDS epidemic, the on-going laying of landmines, and human trafficking. Burma has the highest number of child soldiers in the world.

Ethnic minorities lack security, food, education for their children, and suffer increased health problems. The Karen people are one of these ethnic groups accounting for approx 7% of the total population. It is the third largest group after the Burman and Shan people. Many have been displaced from their homes and their villages burned. Tragically the Karen people have been caught in a civil war between the ruling military government and the various Karen rebel factions for over 60 years. Yet they have not given up.


Karenaid is a small Christian charity which supports a variety of projects among displaced people from Burma. Although it cannot change the enormous problems of the region it does make a huge difference to individual lives and communities. Karenaid has links with local people and consequently is aware of local needs which do not attract media attention. 

Displaced people from Burma fall into three main groups:

  1. People who have been forced to leave their homes but remain in their own country. This group is the most difficult to access and usually the most needy. They are known as Internally Displaced People (IDPs)
  2. Refugees are people who have left their homes in order to cross the border into Thailand. They usually reside in camps and their basic needs tend to be covered by large organisations that work on the border.
  3. Migrant workers have crossed the border in order to find work. This is often poorly paid and open to abuse but they can still make a better living than the one they had inside Burma.