More Kachin Refugees Return Amid Clashes

By Saw Yan Naing 27 August 2012

Around 500 more Kachin war refugees have been forced home from southeastern China after the local authorities in Yunnan Province tore down their temporary shelters.

Mai Li Awng, a relief worker who has been helping the refugees, told The Irrawaddy that 188 people from Lung Kraw Camp and 326 from Na Kawng Kawng Camp in Yunnan Province were sent back to Lana Zubja Camp in Kachin State over the weekend.

Around 1,000 refugees were already forced to cross the border into war-torn northern Burma last week despite armed conflicts still raging between the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and Burmese government troops.

“[These fresh groups] firstly requested to the Chinese authorities to move at the end of the monsoon as it is difficult for them to travel in the rain. But they were nevertheless forced to return home,” said Mai Li Awng, the spokesperson for the Wun Tawng Ningtwey (Light for Kachin People) local relief group.

Lana Zubja currently shelters around 5,000 displaced civilians who fled their homes due to the armed conflict between the government and Kachin rebels.

However, refugees from Lung Kraw found it difficult to travel such a long distance during the monsoon. They crossed from China into Burma but stayed in the Kachin jungle near to the Chinese border as it was too far to the camps.

“They moved to an area nearby the frontier and stayed in the jungle even though there was no security for them,” said Mai Li Awng.

Some 560 Kachin refugees remain in one Chinese refugee camp—Kha Dawng Pawng in Yunnan Province. This camp will reportedly be moved at the end of monsoon due to the heavy rain and difficult distance to be traveled, according to Mai Li Awng.

As many as 10,000 Kachin refugees have fled over the border into China with many staying with relatives in Yunnan Province, claim humanitarian groups.

Lana Zupja Camp is becoming congested as more batches of freshly deported refugees arrive, said Mai Li Awung. “Lana Zupja Camp is now overcrowded,” she told The Irrawaddy. “But there is no other option as [the Kachin refugees] were forced by the Chinese authorities to return home.”

Meanwhile, China has denied reports that the local authorities in Yunnan are forcing Kachin refugees into a perilous conflict zone but instead said that they are returning home voluntarily.

In response to a report by The New York Times on Friday, China’s Foreign Ministry released a statement to the newspaper claiming the refugees were going back because fighting between the Burmese government and KIO was subsiding.

However, KIO spokesman La Nan told The Irrawaddy that clashes in Kachin and northern Shan states take place on a daily basis and peace talks are on hold as the government’s negotiation team still has not responded to an invitation for further discussions.

“The government hasn’t contacted us for further peace talks at this moment. So we are waiting to hearing from them,” he said.

Asked about Chinese pressure on Kachin refugees to return home, La Nan said, “It is their domestic policy. [China] has no agreement to settle refugees in its territories.”

“The refugees have bad feelings about the Chinese authorities’ treatment of them. [The Chinese] destroyed all shelters where the refugees stayed,” he added.

More than 60,000 people have been displaced since hostilities between the government and KIO resumed in northern Burma last June after a 17-year ceasefire broke down, claim humanitarian groups.