Reminding the world of Myanmar Reminding the world of Myanmar
Backstories

Reminding the world of Myanmar

    NHK World
    Correspondent
    Like many Myanmar expatriates, Japanese resident Otsuki Misaki was appalled when the military seized power in her native country last year, but also heartened by the global outpouring of sympathy and support for her people. Now that the spotlight has shifted to another major conflict, she fears the world is starting to forget, so she has launched a crowdfunding effort to help.

    Otsuki has lived in Japan for two decades, but still feels a strong connection to Myanmar, the country where she was born and raised. After the army seized power, she felt compelled to do something to help the people back home.

    "The day of the coup was my birthday," she says. "I saw the news on social media and was so shocked. I couldn't accept what was going on in my home country. I just cried."

    Otsuki started doing fundraising work for Japan-based nonprofit organizations. At first, there was plenty of support. But she says people are now beginning to forget, in part due to Russia's of Ukraine invasion. She says donations have dropped 30 percent compared to last year.

    "During a recent fundraising campaign, I met someone who said they were willing to donate to Ukraine but not to Myanmar," she says. "That made me sad."

    Otsuki decided she had to do something more to remind people of the situation in Myanmar. In March, she launched a crowdfunding project to send money to people displaced by the fighting. She aims to raise around $115,000 by the end of April.

    More than 1,200 donors have already pledged a total of $112,000.

    Calls for help

    Otsuki says she was moved to start the project by the countless calls for help she has received from people in Myanmar over the past year. Recently, a woman in her 40s contacted her on social media, saying she had to flee her home and hide in nearby jungle because of fighting. Her son was detained by the military last year and she doesn't know if he is still alive.

    Campaigner Otsuki Misaki hears from many people in Myanmar who are experiencing difficulties.

    Another person, a farmer in his 30s, told Otsuki he had to move to an evacuation shelter because his village had been turned into a battleground: "Fighting broke out near the village, making it impossible to live in our homes. Shells were flying everywhere."

    Many displaced people in Myanmar are living in makeshift shelters that are fragile and may not be able to withstand the seasonal rains.

    Since the coup, the military has reportedly killed nearly 1,800 civilians. United Nations officials say more than 560,000 others have been forced to leave their homes.

    Help from Japanese students

    Otsuki is running the crowdfunding campaign with friends from Myanmar. They are desperate to help people in its homeland since their families and relatives are caught up in fighting and some were killed.

    Also many Japanese people are helping out, including some students. "I studied Burmese and saw on social media that a lot of people, including some of my friends, were in danger," said Ishikawa Wataru, a graduate student at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. "I decided I had to help. As a Japanese person, I can tell people in this country about what's going on. And I think people in Myanmar will be encouraged to know that people overseas are fighting for their cause."

    Otsuki says an increasing number of Japanese people are supporting her cause.

    All human life is equal

    Myanmar expatriates living in Japan recently took part in a rally to protest the war in Ukraine. Though she believes the invasion has deflected attention from the struggle in Myanmar, she feels it is important to protest all conflicts, wherever they take place.

    "I believe human life is equal," says Otsuki. "I want the Japanese government to accept Myanmar residents with family in Japan, in the same way it is accepting evacuees from Ukraine. I want Japan to accept anyone who is in trouble and has nowhere to go."

    Otsuki and her colleagues are urging the Japanese government to accept people from Myanmar with family in Japan, in the same way it is accepting evacuees from Ukraine.

    The crowdfunding campaign will continue through the end of this month. It has so far raised about 112,000 dollars out of its 115,000 target. Once it closes, Otsuki will send the money to Myanmar through a non-governmental organization in Thailand.

    "There are many people who have been killed by the military," she says. "If we don't do anything and let them take power, these deaths will be legitimated. That is unacceptable. I am willing to do whatever it takes to restore democracy to Myanmar."

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