Thousands of Christians flee Myanmar to escape persecution amid fighting between rebels and government troops
Tens of thousands of Christians in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, have been forced to abandon their homes and take refuge in foreign soil to escape the long-running campaign of persecution by the government.
More than 100,000 Christians from Myanmar are now in Malaysia as refugees, according to a report by TRT World, Turkey's national public broadcaster.
"Myanmar isn't safe for us. They killed people, sent people to jail because of religion," the news agency quoted a Christian refugee as saying.
The Christians in Myanmar belong to ethnic and religious minorities who have been fighting for greater autonomy in the states where they live. They have been resisting the military's efforts to assimilate them into the majority Burmese culture ever since the Southeast Asian nation achieved independence from British rule in 1948.
The conflict has not abated even with the election victory of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy in November 2015, ending nearly 50 years of military rule, and the election of Htin Kyaw as president and Myanmar's first civilian leader in March 2016. Htin Kyaw is a close ally of Aung San Suu Kyi, who is barred from the post by the constitution, but has said she will lead the country anyway, according to the BBC.
Fighting has even escalated between ethnic rebel groups and government troops, forcing more Christians and other non-Buddhist minorities to flee, according to reports.
Despite a ceasefire agreement during the election campaign period, the Myanmar military continued its attacks against ethnic minorities in Kachin and Shan State, according to Open Doors USA.
Aside from attacks by government forces, Christians in Myanmar also have to contend with persecution led by radical Buddhist monks. These monks, Open Doors says, have successfully helped introduce laws for the "protection of race and religion," creating tough hurdles for conversions and religiously mixed marriages.
Of Myanmar's current population of 54.8 million, there are an estimated 4.4 million Christians who live in states along the country's borders with China, Thailand and India, together with other ethnic minorities.
Some of the ethnic minorities have formed their own armies to resist government troops who are known to attack even without any provocation. Military attacks include landmine explosions, rape of women, indiscriminate killing of people and forced displacement, The Christian Post reported based on a report filed by the World Evangelical Alliance's Religious Liberty Commission.
Myanmar is ranked 28th on Open Doors' 2017 World Watch List of countries most hostile to Christians.