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Illustration by Shahd Nigim

“We will do anything we must to keep fighting”: Overseas Burmese on their Country’s Plight

An overseas Burmese dissident recounts the horrific killings of loved ones back home and how they have continued their fight for democracy abroad.

Feb 21, 2022

Trigger Warning: This piece contains descriptions of war-related violence and death. Due to the volatile political situation in Myanmar, we have used a pseudonym — Thuya — to refer to the dissident.
“I saw my mom’s best friend[‘s] teenager son [go] out to protest only to get arrested and next day the military returned only his bloody brains in a plastic bag, saying: ‘This is what is left of your son.’ …”
Those are the words of Thuya, a member of the Burmese diaspora active in the resistance movement against the country’s military junta. Their family and close friends have been maimed and killed, but they have only been able to mourn their deaths from afar.
In Feb. 2021, Myanmar saw an overthrow of the civilian government by the military. The country’s political climate remained volatile as people protested en masse and the military junta responded with brutal violence. The military also shut down access to Wi-Fi and the internet to restrict the flow of information and communication. The situation has since erupted into civil war, with battles breaking out across the country between the military and organized groups of armed civilians.
Despite the dangers, Burmese dissidents within the country risked their lives to protest by banging pots and pans, lining up candles, painting the letters CDM (Civil Disobedience Movement) on their foreheads and holding strikes. There is a National Unity Government in exile made of democratically elected representatives who have since been ousted from their positions,. The NUG also recently established a radio to help keep citizens updated within the country. “The beginning of Feb 2021 was very intense and traumatizing for all Burmese people living abroad. We [had] our family members and relatives become criminals, [get] shot, [get] wounded.” shared Thuya.
According to Thuya, the military junta has terrorized its people. Thuya’s cousin was walking home with his girlfriend one night, and never came back alive. He was shot by a soldier in the military for breaking the curfew to be out with his girlfriend. An employee of Thuya’s father was shot in the eye and later died from the injury. Many Burmese have returned home to their families dead. Some have their organs missing. Some have even alleged that the government is selling the organs of protesters to international organ trafficking groups.
“...[The military burned] down the entire villages in the rural areas with younger people [fleeing], but disabled people and old people who [were] unable to run got burned alive in it,” Thuya lamented.
After the coup, Thuya feels that the people in the country now have no choice but to resist. “[The] 2021 Feb coup not only opened our mindset to become stronger and fight back, but also inspired us to break free from this three generation long curse,” they said.
This new resolve has compelled members of the Burmese diaspora to provide support to the resistance. Thuya and their friends across the world organized a fundraiser to raise money to send back to Myanmar; they managed to raise 200,000 USD. Thuya also sends back 10 percent of their personal paycheck every month. Even when they are not sending back their money directly, they try to spend their money within the Burmese community because someone else will send it back to Myanmar. Members of the diaspora also help organize for CDM, refugees, relief supplies and even the People’s Defense Forces. Burmese Americans have protested in Washington, D.C.
Many members of the diaspora have contributed to the resistance, despite intense threats to their physical safety. The government has passed laws which criminalize dissent on social media, often overnight turning overseas dissidents into fugitives from their own country of birth. Within the country, even Buddhist monks have given up their vows of nonviolence to pick up guns and fight in the resistance.
In the beginning, many members of the Burmese diaspora wanted the international community to intervene, hoping that ASEAN or the UN would support their efforts. This support has often been absent and counterproductive. For example, on the invitation of a lobbyist paid by the military junta, a CNN crew traveled to Myanmar in a much criticized trip. After CNN’s visit, 11 people that were interviewed by the media company were detained. But even in the absence of concrete support from the international community, Thuya emphasized that raising awareness and donating to the cause as individuals does make a difference.
Prior to the coup, Myanmar was frequently in the news because of the Rohingya genocide. Like many in the country, Thuya turned a blind eye to their compatriots’ plight and chose to believe in state media’s distorted narrative. ”I wanted to think, ‘Oh it’s just another piece of news and it doesn’t affect … me. But as I mentioned before, once it [started affecting] my community, my family, friends and relatives, it is personal.” Thuya suggested.
People have halted their lives to become activists, not because they wanted to, but because when they check for news about their country, they see their friends and family on wanted lists. They see the deaths of their compatriots.
“It has changed our lives. I [thought] such inhumane things would never happen in my lifetime but now I realized that [such] cruelty exists in the world. “ Thuya lamented.
Chloe Eoyang is Deputy News Editor. Email her at
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