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Myanmar’s teachers: Careers and lives in limbo
February 1 marked one year since the military coup in Myanmar when, on what to be the first sitting day of the newly elected Parliament, the military seized power, sparking global outrage. One of the biggest mobilisations of public resistance to military rule in the Asia-Pacific region – the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) – was ignited.
Despite violent crackdowns, teachers are refusing to teach under the military junta. In May 2021, just days before the start of the new school year, more than 125,000 teachers were suspended for involvement in the CDM. In addition, more than half of Myanmar’s 400,000 teachers were also involved in the CDM and on strike. Many are members of the Myanmar Teachers’ Federation (MTF). When the school year started in June, only 10 percent of Myanmar’s students had enrolled. Many parents did not want their children indoctrinated.
Hlaing Hlaing Sint was shared her insights into the situation teachers faced with the IEU from a hotel room in Bangkok. Hlaing Hlaing Sint is waiting to come to Australia on humanitarian grounds. She said teachers and students are standing side-by-side to reject the military coup.
The nationwide strike brought the junta-run education system to its knees. While teachers were threatened with a return to work, most continued their involvement with the CDM at great personal cost. They now fear for their lives. They cannot work in schools. Those on scholarships have had to forgo opportunities. Career progression and professional development has stalled. Teachers and other government workers have been evicted from government housing. They fear nightly house raids as the military targets anyone suspected of taking part in the CDM. Many teachers now live on the run or have fled to ethnic areas or into exile. They are fearful for their family who remain at home, and many teachers have been detained and tortured. Many are missing while others have shared their experiences of sexual abuse at the hands of the junta.
The toll has been heavy. The junta’s systemic violence against workers, its brutal repression of strikes, arbitrary arrests and suppression of civil liberties landed Myanmar on the ITUC Global Rights Index as one of the world's 10 worst countries for working people in 2021.
Yet behind the brutality are tiny slivers of hope. Recently, the Prime Minister of the underground National Unity Government (NUG) told Myanmar Now that the junta could be defeated by the end of 2022. Meanwhile, Australia’s largest oil and gas company, Woodside Energy, has announced its withdrawal from Myanmar.
But the real hope for Myanmar lies with the international community. Australia must step up and bring its actions on Myanmar into line with other countries such the United States, UK and the EU.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has signed a joint letter calling on Australia to impose targeted sanctions against Myanmar’s military leaders and their business interests. “Workers in Myanmar are risking their lives to protest the military takeover while the Morrison government sits idly by, when they should be taking action to support democracy,” said ACTU President Michele O’Neil.
After a year of brutal military rule, democracy must be restored, and military leaders must be made accountable for crimes against humanity.
Tonga: school year starts in makeshift classrooms
The eruption of the Hunga Tonga volcano on 15 January triggered a tsunami that inundated Tonga and warnings across the Pacific. Tens of thousands of lives have been disrupted and livelihoods lost.
Save the Children has reported that every school has been impacted by the eriuption and tsunami. Students and teachers have started the 2022 school year in makeshift classrooms as aid organisations race to ship in supplies and for resources to arrive. The IEU extends its solidarityto the people of Tonga as they start the long road to recovery.
Afghanistan: Australia’s shameful inaction
In January 2022, an interim report into Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan found the government failed in its duty to protect Afghans who had risked their lives working alongside Australian troops.
With pressure mounting on Australia to do more, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke announced 15,000 humanitarian places be allocated over four years – not in addition to the existing humanitarian intake. This amounts to just 3750 places a year, which is already the current refugee intake from Afghanistan. It is also less than Australia's intake in 2019-2020.
Reverend Tim Costello, of Christians United for Afghanistan, described the announcement as a “mean and tricky” attempt to disguise inaction. Since the Taliban took over, there has been a united call for an additional 20,000 humanitarian visas for people from Afghanistan. Yet the Australian government is yet to issue a single visa.
To take action: actionforafghanistan.com.au.