We Trust Neither the Govt Nor the Tatmadaw: Shan IDPs

By Kyaw Kha 22 July 2019

There are currently six camps for internally displaced persons (IDP) along the Thailand-Myanmar border where villagers who fled civil war in Shan State now live: Loi Kaw Wan, Koung Jor, Loi Sam Sip, Loi Lam, Loi Tai Laeng and Kong Moong Murng camps.

Among them, the Koung Jor IDP camp is the only one located in Thailand.

The IDPs in that camp fled fighting between the Tatmadaw and the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) around 2002.

Irrawaddy (Burmese edition) Chief Reporter Kyaw Kha discussed conditions in the camps and IDP expectations of repatriation and peace with Sai Leng, Chairman of the camp committee.

How many households and people are in the camp?

There are 87 households and over 300 IDPs in the camp. It has been 17 years since the camp was built and the number of refugees in the camp is decreasing. Some IDPs left the camp by themselves. There were some IDPs who left the camp because they were afraid of being repatriated to Shan State.

Why have they taken refuge here? Where are they from?

They are from various townships including Le Char and Mong Kung.  They fled from the fighting between government troops and Shan troops. Some moved here because they were forced to relocate.

It is the nearby villages that were caught in the crossfire whenever fighting broke out in Shan State. Similar to what is happening now in Rakhine State, villagers were interrogated by government troops because the latter assumed that the villagers had links to armed groups. Sometimes, villagers’ cattle was seized by government troops. In some cases, village heads were killed by government troops. So, they moved to the camp from Mong Hsu. The majority of them are from Le Char and Mong Kung.

Where do the IDPs get their rations now?

They do not have regular rations at the moment. Previously, the TBC (Thailand Border Consortium) gave us food. The TBC stopped assistance for IDPs in October 2017. As a result, Eh Tu Hta Camp in Karen State no longer receives assistance. All the people in our camp, which is not officially recognized, are IDPs. It is just a temporary camp.  Ours is not a refugee camp, it is an IDP camp.

What do they do for their living?

It is a question I really want to answer. Conditions in our camp are much better than others in Shan State. Thai authorities know that assistance for our camp has been cut off, so they pretend not to know what we are doing. So we work as day laborers in nearby Thai villages. Thai farmers in the villages grow garlic and chilly. If there are surprise checks, Thai employers call us ahead of time. They come to us and take us in their cars when they have work for us. Compared with other camps, ours is much better. However, growing garlic and chilly is not a job that is available all year round. In the off season, we do not have jobs. Construction jobs are more regular.

Those who work at construction sites earn 250 Thai Baht (THB) (over 10,000 kyats) per day. They have regular jobs. Wages in garlic and chilly farms depend on prices and work availability. They earn from THB 240 to THB 300 depending on their skills, but it is not a regular job and wages drop when chilly prices fall.

Other IDP camps are in Shan State and it is difficult for them to cross the border. They are distant from Thai villages too. Thus, IDPs there rarely have jobs. It is very difficult for them to make a living.

When do they expect to go back home? Do they intend to go back home?

In fact, there is no one who returns. They are afraid to go back. This is because we trust neither the government nor the current Army. We do not believe that the government has a proper plan to repatriate IDPs. In 2012-13, the Norwegian Refugee Committee implemented pilot projects. They said they would relocate about 90 people to Mong Htar. They told us just that and erected buildings there. We neither knew who funded the project nor who arranged it. Actually, they should have consulted with us. They should have consulted with the organizations that were regularly providing assistance to us. They said we could go and live there because they had spoken to the government.

How about the education of children here?

There is a school set up by CSOs here. It is like an affiliate of the Thai schools. The curriculum is a Thai curriculum, and it is much better than in Myanmar because Shan language is taught. When children finish school here, they can be admitted to Thai schools. They are granted 10-year resident permits to study in Thailand.

Currently, the government, the Tatmadaw and the RCSS are engaged in peace negotiations. Do you expect IDPs will be able to go back home?

We do not know much about the negotiations. However, we do not expect much from them. Whatever the Tatmadaw is doing, they eventually will tell ethnic armed organizations (EAO) to surrender their arms if EAOs want to go into politics. The Tatmadaw has done nothing to build trust.

As for the government, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s guys are naïve. They do not seem to have tangible polices. They are worse than the Tatmadaw. However, the Tatmadaw seems to have a tangible policy, but it always wants to take the upper hand.

Thousands of refugees and IDPs have been stranded along the Thai-Myanmar border and the China-Myanmar Border due to the civil war. Do you think current peace efforts will realize the hopes of IDPs to go back home?

There is a saying in Myanmar that the more you long for the paradise, the further away it recedes. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has adopted a policy of coaxing the Tatmadaw. [Senior General] Min Aung Hlaing knows that. The harder she tries to coax him, the tenser his attitude is. I think the situation is just getting worse and worse.