Myanmar nationals in Singapore show support by spreading awareness and giving financial aid

Despite the distance, Myanmar nationals  said they are lending their support to the pro-democracy campaign.
Despite the distance, Myanmar nationals said they are lending their support to the pro-democracy campaign.PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - Myanmar nationals living in Singapore have been looking on with apprehension at what one of them called a return "to the dark era" since the military seized power from the government on Feb 1.

Following the coup, which toppled the Aung San Suu Kyi government, protesters have taken to the streets. Though the demonstrations have largely been peaceful, tensions have escalated and in recent days, water cannons have been deployed and clashes with the authorities have resulted in bloodshed.

Despite the distance, Myanmar nationals told The Straits Times they are lending their support to the pro-democracy campaign, dubbed the "Civil Disobedience Movement" and shortened to "CDM" by some.

The Myanmar community in Singapore is estimated to number at least 200,000, made up of students, healthcare workers and foreign domestic workers, as well as skilled professionals.

For 34-year-old Michelle, a Myanmar citizen who has lived here for nearly a decade, she feels she is responsible to her fellow countrymen to share and post the ongoing demonstrations so the "world knows the truth", she said.

"We have to eliminate this dictatorship, and we cannot let (military rule) happen to the next generation," said the designer, who like some others interviewed declined to use her full name to protect her family in Myanmar.

She shares Myanmar-related news on social media platforms and takes the time to talk about the country and its history and culture to friends in Singapore.

"We have to fight back, we cannot accept this military coup," said Michelle who has given financial aid to friends joining the protests by donating about $100 to them directly.

As part of the CDM, a growing number of civil servants such as doctors, engineers, and firefighters in Myanmar are boycotting work in protest against the coup led by military chief Min Aung Hlaing.

The army said the coup was carried out in response to voting fraud in last year's election, when Ms Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party won in a landslide.

She and some of her NLD party members were also arrested and have been in detention ever since.

The unrest hits even closer to home for healthcare worker Thiri Heather, 34.

The mother of two, who has lived in Singapore for more than 15 years, has an uncle who is an NLD politician and - from what little information she can glean - is believed to be under house arrest.

"We haven't been able to contact him, but my relatives drove by his place and saw it surrounded by guards.

"I fear that my country is going back to the dark era, I feel immense sadness thinking about my childhood years," said Ms Thiri, describing the 90s as a time when access to information was restricted, and when one could be jailed for owning a radio.

She said that if she were single and without children, and if the world was not in the middle of a pandemic, she would "be the first one back on a plane".

Instead she is offering financial help to those who are risking their jobs and lives back home. "We are ready to donate if needed," she said. Some fellow Myanmar nationals in Singapore have also opened their homes in Myanmar for protesters who need a place to stay.

"The silver lining in all of this is that so many people are helping each other," said Ms Thiri.

Some Myanmar nationals fear that the reinstatement of military rule will undo the last five years of progress under the democratically elected government, in areas such as education and healthcare reform, and the influx of foreign investments and job opportunities.

"The country has done well in the last five years and has been moving up. But back under the military, we don't know what will happen," said a 30-year-old business owner who only wanted to be known as Nang.

The feeling of helplessness is striking, but the people of Myanmar "are not hopeless", said a former Myanmar national who is now a Singaporean.

The 33-year-old educator who gave her name as Isabel said it is tough to be away from family and friends in Myanmar, but she does what she can to "fight" by giving financial aid and raising awareness on social media platforms.

"I think all of us looking on from outside feel guilty (for not being there), but we cannot let their dream be taken away," she said.