Government to Relocate Rangoon Squatters

By Moe Myint 25 May 2016

RANGOON — The Rangoon divisional government plans to relocate squatters and provide them with temporary housing, said Rangoon Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein on Wednesday at a press conference.

He warned against trespassing and living on vacant, private or government land from Wednesday onward, and said that people who seek government housing dishonestly would be punished harshly under the existing laws.

Phyo Min Thein emphasized that only “real” squatters who legitimately need housing in Rangoon would qualify for this type of assistance. Other types of squatters he listed and described as landlord squatters, local property owners who also trespass onto government property; professional squatters, who may have purchased and re-sold land illegally; recognized squatters, who are understood as those living illegally on others’ farmland; and anarchist squatters, known to fight back against the authorities and offer protection to other squatters.

He added that there were ethnic armed organizations co-opting land and that the other groups were trespassing or leasing land illegally for their own benefit.

The minister said squatters emerged in Rangoon after the 2012 by-election, when former chief minister Myint Swe bulldozed houses in Tha Mee Kalay village, which was previously army property. The land was then developed by local businessman Zaw Zaw  (no relation to tycoon Zaw Zaw of the Max Myanmar Group conglomerate) when he brought workers to staff his rubber plantation, and later sold, leaving the workers as illegal residents on the land.

Htun Naing Ko, deputy director of the Rangoon administrative body, said there were over 400,000 squatters in the greater Rangoon area.

The local government will form committees at the district and township levels to investigate the squatters’ backgrounds, print 200,000 application forms and decide who qualifies for housing.

“Squatters don’t need national registration cards [to apply for housing],” said Phyo Min Thein. “They just need to show up. We’ll take their photographs and record their names to avoid repetition.”

He explained that about 45 days after the committees had sorted through applications, approval cards would be given. Those who qualified would be relocated to temporary camps, and regulations would be enforced against handing cards off to others once someone is relocated.

“If applicants aren’t real squatters we will take action against them,” said Htun Naing Ko.

The chief minister said the government would identify jobs for the squatters in factories and he expects that new foreign investment should help to address unemployment in the region. When asked by reporters about the costs of his approach, Phyo Min Thein did not give an estimated or allocated budget for the plan.

Yan Aung, 28, a squatter originally from Magwe Division but surviving as a laborer in Rangoon’s Hlaing Tharyar Township said that relocation would not work because many squatters lived near where they could find jobs. He added that squatters would be unable to move without having first secured proper employment, and if they were forcibly removed it would only exacerbate the problem.

Yan Aung said he might be on the government’s resettlement plan list, as he was asked to provide his information to an administrator in April and is currently living on Rangoon municipal land.

“We don’t want to be the city’s trash. Everyone who lives in this quarter is a citizen and authorities should listen to the voices of the squatters,” he said.