By Paula Hancocks and Rebecca Wright, CNN
Su Thandar Win shows a picture of her 7-year-old son on her phone, and a proud smile instinctively spreads across her face. But that quickly fades when she explains why she hasn’t seen him for over two years.
“I left it with my mother,” said the Burmese migrant worker, 26, who lives in Thailand.
Initially, Covid restrictions blocked his annual trip to his home when the border between Thailand and Myanmar was closed in March 2020. Then the February 1 coup in Myanmar intensified this separation, with Internet imposed by the army and mobile network outages often make home calls impossible, she said.
Compounding their problems, the money Su and her husband earn as factory workers in the Thai capital, Bangkok, can no longer reach their families. the stroke pushed Myanmar’s banking system to the brink of collapse, and internet shutdowns made transfers impossible, according to at the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
Every morning, long lines of people wait for hours at banks and ATMs across Myanmar. Withdrawal limits have been capped at around 200,000 kyat ($ 120) per customer per day and some are even strapped for cash as people stop depositing money for security reasons.
âNormally, when I send money home, my family can withdraw the money the next day,â Su said. “But lately the internet hasn’t worked and it’s hard to withdraw money, and we don’t think we can trust the bank either.”
Su and her husband are among the 1.7 million Burmese nationals working in neighboring Thailand, according to the Migrant Workers Group, and part of a vital network of foreign workers who support loved ones at home. The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates some $ 1.4 billion was sent to Myanmar in 2015 by foreign workers.
The current situation has left thousands of migrants living with constant concern not only for the financial well-being of their loved ones, but for their safety. More than 860 people have been killed by security forces since the coup and more than 6,000 arrested, according to the Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners (AAPP).
Su’s mother tells her not to worry, as the fighting is not intense in their village. âBut they have to be careful,â Su said. âThey don’t sleep soundly anymore and hardly come out. “
Yet without money to store food or medicine, it won’t be easy to stay low in the long run.
âI want to be based in Myanmar to work, because we have so much difficulty working in other countries and I also want to live with my family at home,â she said.
But she is afraid of what could happen if she and her husband, Zaw, 30, who also works in a factory in Bangkok, return. âIf we try to get back, they will arrest us even if we are not involved in politics,â she said.
Zaw speaks of the torment of watching, from a distance, as his country is in turmoil as the Burmese army, the Tatmadaw, continues its brutal crackdown on anti-coup protesters. âI can’t go back and fight,â he said. âEven though I don’t mind risking my life for the next generation, I want real democracy in my country. “
Increased poverty in Myanmar
Before the coup, Christina’s older brother typically sent up to $ 240 a month from Thailand, which her family of 10 relied on for food and treatment. It all stopped after the coup when the banks closed.
Christina, who uses a pseudonym for security reasons, said the family had to leave their home in Mindat town, Chin state, southern Myanmar, when the fighting started there. Now, this is not just the food they need.
“Because we are in a place where there are no doctors and nurses, even for headaches, we have a hard time buying medicine because it has been a few months,” she said. .
They are also unable to return home to plant new crops on which they relied. to feed and sell, so that the next few years be difficult, she said. They are currently living in a camp for internally displaced persons.
Wai, who also uses a pseudonym for security reasons, said her brother works in Thailand and sends $ 150 to $ 180 a month to her elderly mother who lives alone in her village. She used it for medicine because he said her health was deteriorating. Wai said her mother saved some of the remittances, but within a month her reserves will be depleted.
âSince I have family, I can’t support them either. My brother cannot send money. Mom therefore uses her savings for food and has to borrow from other family members in the village, âWai said.
âI sell food in factories and we were doing well before the coup. But after the coup, most of the factories were closed and I couldn’t sell. So we are fighting. So I asked my brother to send me some money. He said he would. But as we could not receive from here, our family is also in difficulty.
A published report According to the United Nations at the end of April, up to half of Myanmar’s population could live in poverty by the start of 2022 due to “aggravating negative shocks”. The report found that 83% of Myanmar households reported that their incomes had, on average, been reduced by almost half due to the Covid pandemic.
This situation has worsened since the coup.
Fear for the safety of families
Ma Oo has lived in Thailand for 20 years, helping migrant workers obtain documents to work legally and defend their rights. Her children studied in Thailand and are now working in the country. But she worries about the rest of her family who remain in Shan State in Myanmar.
Her father, she said, worked as a public relations organizer for the National League for Democracy (NLD), the democratically elected party ousted from power by the military coup. Ma Oo assumes her father was arrested, but even now, four months later, she isn’t sure.
âThe army has detained all those linked to the NLD. I lost contact with my father as soon as I heard about the coup. I am worried about my whole family as we are all involved in the party. My father was arrested twice in the 1990s for being involved in the NLD and now we assume he was arrested again because we lost contact with him.
Not knowing the whereabouts or well-being of family members caught up in the military junta’s crackdown is traumatic for those who cannot return home.
Kyokyani, 35, works in a bakery in Bangkok. His wife works in a textile factory but he said his 85-year-old mother was too frail to join them from his village in the Mandalay region of Myanmar.
Kyokyani, who also wishes to be identified by one name for security reasons, said his older brother was recently arrested by security forces and held for three days. âThe army is putting pressure on our village because of the demonstrations and they wanted to arrest the leaders of the demonstration. But they couldn’t find them, so they arrested my brother, âhe said.
âI am very sad and worried for my family,â he said, adding that most of those who live in the villages are day laborers and are struggling to make ends meet. “I can’t go back and help them and it makes me worry about them even more.”
Kyokyani said business plummeted when Covid hit and he couldn’t send as much money home as he usually did. The coup made matters worse and he hasn’t been able to send any money since the military took power.
Even maintaining oneself is a challenge.
âThere are fewer jobs here in Thailand and I still have to spend on my accommodation and food so I can’t get paid as much as I used to,â he said.
His migrant worker colleague Myat fears for the safety of his family. Her relative worked in a gold mine in southeast Kayah state, where 11 workers were would have been killed during a military airstrike at the end of March.
He said his parent was not working that day, but wonders why the minors were targeted. ” I can not support it. They are innocent people of the forest. I don’t think they even have the internet so they wouldn’t have known what was going on, âhe said.
Looking at a photo of one of the victims on his phone, he said: âI am worried not only for my family but for the whole country. I am worried about everyone because they are killing young people. Young people are the future of Myanmar, but they value them less than animals.
For Su and Zaw, whose 7-year-old is still in Myanmar with his grandparents, thinking about what kind of future he has without sending money to a troubled country is almost too much to bear.
âI am very worried about my child, as a mother. We heard that the army was taking people around our village for forced labor, especially boys and men, so that they could not sleep peacefully at night, âSu said.
âI miss my child. Due to the bad situation, I cannot return to see him. I’m sad.”
CNN’s Salai TZ and Kocha Olarn contributed reporting.