Authorities in China’s Yunnan Province are urging thousands of ethnic Kokang refugees in their area to return to the conflict-affected Kokang Special Region in northern Shan State, a ruling party lawmaker from the region has said.
Kyaw Ni Naing, a Union Solidarity and Development Party Lower House lawmaker who represents Laukkai Township, the Kokang region’s administrative center, said Chinese authorities on March 4 began encouraging refugees to leave Nansan, a Chinese town located across the border from Laukkai, even though some feared going back.
“Most of the war refugees have arrived at the border as Chinese authorities expelled them. Those who dare not return to their homes [in Laukkai] stay at makeshift tents in the forests along the border. They are lacking in everything, especially shelter,” he said.
According to the lawmaker, the Chinese believe hosting the refugees any longer would strain Burma-China relations.
Tens of thousands of Kokang residents of Laukkai Township fled to China following the outbreak of heavy fighting between the Burma Army and Kokang rebels, known as the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), on Feb. 9. According to some estimates, as many as 50,000 crossed into Yunnan Province.
Chinese state media have reported that emergency shelters had been set up for the refugees in Nansan, but little official information has been released about their plight. There have been no recent Chinese media reports indicating that authorities are now asking the refugees to return home.
The Kokang are an ethnic Chinese minority in Burma and the group can count on Chinese public support, but Beijing is concerned about instability along its border and its relationship with Naypyidaw.
Kyaw Ni Naing said the Kokang Youth Association has been providing refugees in China with foods donated by Kokang-based businessmen and well-wishers. The association is also planning to form a rescue and rehabilitation team to resettle the refugees. “Kokang youths went up to refugee camps in China and made donations. We were not allowed [by Chinese authorities] to take photos of the donations and to bring cameras,” he added.
Burmese state media reported in late February that Laukkai had been put under army control and that the region, which is under martial law, is safe for civilians to return to. Rebels, at the time, warned refugees not to return as fighting was ongoing.
Clashes in Laukkai Township have been reported by state media as recently as Saturday.
Army-owned newspaper Myawaddy reported on March 7 that two border gates, one near border post no. 125 and one atNansan, were reopened on Saturday, after which 180 refugees returned from China to Laukkai. In another state media report, a total of 2,746 refugees arrived back in Laukkai Saturday.
Thousands of Burmese migrant workers who use to be employed in the Kokang region have tried to flee southward to Lashio and central Burma, where they were welcomed by the army and local authorities.
Tun Tun Min, a volunteer who has been helping displaced Burmese civilians, said several vehicles were going to a government-controlled border crossing of Chin Shwe Haw in northern Shan State every day to bring back stranded workers.
“We’re driving them from the border to Lashio; we prepared vehicles for those who want to return. Many displaced have arrived in Lashio and only those [taking shelter] in Nansan have not come back,” he said.