Food Running out for Displaced Shan

By Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint 23 October 2017

YANGON — One of six refugee camps on the Thailand-Myanmar border in Shan State has run out of food supplies and five others only have enough food to last until the end of October, according to camp organizers.

The six camps—Gawng Mung Mong; Loi Kaw Wan; Loi Tai Leng; Loi Lam; Loi Sarm Sip; and Koung Jor—provide shelter for more than 6,200 internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Koung Jor ran out of food supplies at the end of September. The other five camps have enough food to last until the end of October.

Koung Jor camp organizer Lung Sai Lieng said food was last delivered in September.

“But we’ve got nothing this month. We are surviving on leftovers from last month. People at the camp are expecting to get farming jobs in Thailand, but work hasn’t started yet because of heavy rains,” he said.

The Border Consortium (TBC)—a coalition of INGOS from the US, Britain, Ireland, Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Netherlands, Australia and Norway—has been providing assistance for accommodation, food and education of IDPs at Loi Kaw Wan; Loi Tai Leng; Loi Lam; Loi Sarm Sip; and Koung Jor.

TBC informed camp organizers in February that it would stop providing assistance to the camps at the end of October although it has been informing camp leaders of the likelihood of this happening since 2015.

A 60-year old woman in Loi Kaw Wan suffered a mental breakdown leading to her death on hearing news of the cuts, said Lung Sai Pieng, secretary of the Shan State Refugee Committee.

“Camps are short on food as October is ending soon,” he said. The committee has contacted potential donors to ask for donations. “Some have provided help, but it is short-term assistance. But then it is better than having no food at all,” he added.

Moreover, it is risky for IDPs to cross the border and work in Thailand because they don’t have legal permits, he said.

“I’d like to urge the government to provide help for IDPs here,” he said.

The homes of IDPs have been occupied by the United Wa State Army (UWSA), Tatmadaw and militia, according to the Shan State Refugee Committee. Meanwhile, there is little land available for farming near the camps.

The Shan Human Rights Foundation released a statement in August detailing the background and plight of IDPs in Shan State, saying that IDPs only get seasonal jobs at farms in Thailand and earn much lower wages than Thai workers. Some IDPs find it difficult to leave the camp and work, said the statement.

Yet no international donor has come forward to provide food for the camps, said Lung Sai Lieng.

“I don’t think it will be useful to talk to the government. It has no attention for IDPs because it focuses on political issues and relations with the military,” he said.

The Irrawaddy asked officials of Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) signatories, members of political parties and government officials about repatriation of IDPs, but none of them gave clear answers.

“That will be the part of the rehabilitation and social plan. But so far, we’ve not discussed it yet,” said Kwe Htoo Win, vice-chairman of ethnic armed group and NCA signatory Karen National Union (KNU).

Officials of some other NCA signatories said it is the responsibility of the government to ensure IDPs are able to return home with dignity.

“What we can say is the peace process is still ongoing. It concerns trust building, and we are trying,” said U Hla Maung Shwe, member of the government’s peace commission, on the plight of the IDPs.

Students at two Karreni IDP camps are facing difficulties because of declining international support, said secretary U Bwe Sae of the Karen Refugee Committee.

Loi Tai Leng Camp was established in 1999, Loi Kaw Wan in 2001, Koung Jor in 2002, and Loi Lam and Loi Sarm Sip in 2006, and Gawng Mung Mong in 2007. They shelter people who fled clashes between the Tatmadaw and Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), and alleged torture by the military.

The eight ethnic armed groups that signed the NCA—the KNU; Chin National Front; Arakan Liberation Party (ALP); All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF); Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS); Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army (Peace Council) (KNU/KNLA PC); Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA); and the Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO)—are based along the Myanmar-Thailand border, and have been holding political dialogue with the government for two years.

The issue of IDPs is included under the “social sector”—one of five topics under discussion between the government and NCA signatories, but the parties are yet to reach any agreement.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.

This report originally stated TBC informed camp organizers in July that it would stop providing assistance to the camps at the end of October. Actually, it informed camp organizers in February but had told them of this likelihood since 2015. It stated TBC provided assistance to Gawng Mung Mong. TBC has not provided assistance to Gawng Mung Mong. The original report also cited secretary U Bwe Sae of the Karen Refugee Committee that food supplies to Karen IDPs would be reduced or stopped in 2018. This was removed, as a decision is yet to be made on the matter.