Newly Displaced in Northern Burma Lack Shelter as Rainy Season Begins

By Yen Saning 12 May 2014

RANGOON — Thousands of people displaced by recent fighting in Kachin and Shan states are facing the prospect of months of heavy rains in unsuitable tents, aid workers said.

Fighting in northern Burma broke out once again in April, with clashes sending thousands more civilians into camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs). More people fled fighting in both Kachin State and northern Shan State, where an estimated 100,000 were already living in camps after being displaced by fighting since 2011.

The newly displaced are largely staying in the temporary white tents provided by the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, which are unsuitable for heavy rains.

“As the rain has come in the past one or two days, water comes into the tents. They have to throw the water out. They are facing difficulties,” said Mary Tawn, head of the humanitarian NGO Wunpawng Ningtoi (WPN), based in Mai Ja Yang.

Phyu Ei Thein, an aid worker for White Holding Hands volunteer group, who recently visited newly displaced people in Man Win Gyi village, said they have been provided with some rations of rice and dried fish. But the IDPs’ next food delivery was not guaranteed, as the rations provided by UN agencies and international NGOs like Save the Children, were only enough to properly feed those already displaced before the recent fighting, she said.

According to Karuna Myanmar Social Services, a Kachin NGO, about 3,000 newly displaced people have been added to 3,300 existing IDPs in Man Win Gyi village, an area under Burma Army control. Man Win Gyi village has a Roman Catholic (RC) camp and a Kachin Baptist Convention camp, but since no additional shelter has been arrived, many of the newly displaced are staying at a makeshift camp in a boarding school.

“Those currently living at the boarding school will have to move when school starts [at the end of May] and the shelter will be an urgent need for them,” Phyu Ei Thein said. “The tents provided by UNHCR are not livable anymore when the rain comes. But there is no budget to built shelters yet.”

The nearby Lagat Yang Camp on the border of Kachin and Shan states, which used to house about 800 IDPs, now stands empty. Since the recent fighting, the Burma Army has been based nearby the camp, in an area formerly controlled by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). Burmese soldiers had reported detained and questioned people from the camp.

“They have moved over to Man Win Gyi RC camp after three [soldiers with] heavy weapons came in to the camp,” Phyu Ei Thein said.

“People seem to be quite scared even to talk about what happened to them as the Burmese army is occupying the area.”

Phyu Ei Thein said that according to one displaced woman now in the RC camp, her son was shot by the Burma Army because he was suspected of sending rations to the KIA. The woman reported that the bureau chief of Battalion 99 came to the camp and gave her US$100 in compensation for her son’s wife and $15 each for his two children.

“The mother asked what should they do with $100—her son’s life is invaluable,” she said.

WPN’s Mary Tawn said that it was not just the newly displaced people who will face difficulties in the wet season.

“As all refugee camps are in their third year, the plywood [of the shelters] is not fit anymore after three years of rain,” Mary Tawn said. “Renovation is needed, but we face trouble in doing so as we don’t have funding ready.”

In Bum Tsit Pa Camp No.2, 1,000 IDPs are living in UNHCR tents, she said. Many have moved to the camp after fighting broke out near their previous place of shelter, Nam Lin Pa camp.

Khon Ja, an activist from the Kachin Peace Network, said more than 900 people were also newly displaced in Muse, on the border between northern Shan State and China, and living in tents.