FROM THE DVB NEWSROOM
Seng Raw Maran, 29, works at a restaurant in Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial capital, but lost her job following Hamas’ attack on southern Israel that killed 1,400 people. “I used to work at least 10 hours a day, but since the conflict started on Oct. 7, I have been without work, and I have concerns about my livelihood,” she told DVB.
Born in Hpakant Township, Seng Raw Maran grew up in Myitkyina, the Kachin State capital before she moved to Israel in 2018 to pursue studies in leadership and entrepreneurship at Arava International Center for Agriculture Training (AICAT).
“Tel Aviv, where I currently live, is quite far from Gaza. But the Hamas side fires rockets and missiles [into Israel] on a daily basis,” she said. Seng Raw feels safe at home in Tel Aviv as every house has a bomb shelter or a room to hide in when alarms warn of incoming fire. In Myanmar, there are no such safety precautions or shelters from attacks.
Two days after Hamas’ assault on Israel, on Oct. 9, the Munglai Hkyet Internally Displaced Persons camp near Laiza, located on the China-Myanmar border, was attacked by the military. Twenty-nine civilians were killed. “In Laiza, there were civilians sleeping when the bomb was dropped, and it killed them,” she said.
There are no publicly available statistics on the number of Myanmar nationals working or studying in Israel. Seng Raw estimates that there are at least 400 either for work or post-secondary education in Israel.
There have been no Myanmar nationals reported killed in Israel during the Oct. 7 rampage and massacre by Hamas. Nor have any been killed in Israel’s airstrikes and bombardment of Gaza, which has led to nearly 4,000 Palestinians killed since Oct. 8.
An estimated 200 foreign nationals – from over 20 different countries – have been confirmed dead, with many of them holding dual Israeli citizenship. Out of the estimated 200 abducted and held hostage in Gaza by Hamas, two of them – both Americans – were released on Oct. 20.
Thiry Thailand nationals were killed by Hamas and another 19 were taken hostage into Gaza. Bangkok evacuated 244 of its workers and students from Israel on Oct. 16. Seng Raw thinks that most of the workers evacuated by the Thai government were living in areas close to Gaza. She believes that most Myanmar nationals are living in cities like Tel Aviv, like her, where it’s relatively safe.
On Oct. 9, the Myanmar embassy in Israel announced that assistance was available, via a contact number, and urged all of its nationals to shelter in place. There have been no further updates since then, Seng Raw Maran told DVB. “Actually we expected to get information from them in the first place. We would have been pleased if they had done that,” she said.
Myanmar’s National Unity Government (NUG) hasn’t released any statement either regarding the situation of Myanmar nationals in Israel. “I think what should be done is [for us to continue] taking care of each other by ourselves,” she said.
Even if offered a repatriation flight by Naypyidaw to return home and see her family again, Seng Raw said that she would rather stay in Israel, as she believes it’s much safer for her in Tel Aviv than back home in Hpakant or Myitkyina where fighting between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA/KIO) and the military has escalated since the 2021 military coup. One year ago, an airstrike on a KIO anniversary concert on Oct. 23, 2022 killed 60 people.
Seng Raw said her friends from Myanmar in Israel share her sentiment that they would rather stay than risk returning home to an uncertain future. While most foreigners living in Israel can easily hop on a flight and return home to their families, they believe Myanmar citizens don’t have this option, as they have no idea what awaits them upon arrival in Yangon.
Arbitrary arrests, torture, and prison sentences have been meted out by the military since it seized control of Naypyidaw when it overthrew the National League for Democracy (NLD) government and jailed State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint.
The Assistance Association of Political Prisoners (AAPP) states that 4,152 people have been killed and over 25,000 have been arrested since 2021 with 19,603 still imprisoned by the military in Myanmar.
“The situation for us, as Myanmar citizens, is starkly dissimilar from others. Returning to Myanmar amidst the ongoing crisis would likely force us to flee [to another country] due to the conflict,” she concluded.