Supplies Dwindling at Kachin Border IDP Camps

By Nang Seng Nom 25 September 2013

Food is in short supply at camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) near Burma’s border with China, prompting humanitarian concerns as clashes in the region between government troops and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) reportedly continue.

The fighting, which has occurred despite ongoing talks between the two sides aimed reaching a ceasefire, has led more civilians to seek shelter at the camps, straining humanitarian supplies even as access to some of the IDP sites remains difficult.

“A number of UN organizations have donated rice sacks at the Hlaing Zar headquarters. But no rice was delivered to places situated in remote areas near the border. Now, students from our orphanage have to eat rice with salt as there is nothing else to eat it with,” Hlu Twei, at the Maijayan IDP camp in Lwe Jae Township, told The Irrawaddy.

Musicians from the band Lawkanat and an aid group named “A Phyu Yaung Twe Let” (White Holding Hands) will donate 7.5 million kyats (US$7,700) in concert proceeds to the IDP camps in remote areas near the border. The money will go toward food and medical supplies for the camps, which are often inadequately supplied due to the difficulty of accessing them.

“We reached those refugee camps near the border this September. I really felt sad because I saw that the students there ate only rice with salt,” Bo Bo, who is a member of Aphyu Yaung Twe Let Myar, told The Irrawaddy. “I am worried for their health. So, we are going to donate all the profit [from concerts] to those refugee camps in order to buy food for the students there.”

Health conditions at the squalid and cramped IDP camps are a major concern, according to Bo Bo. In addition, the provision of health care has been hampered by a lack of medical supplies, doctors and nurses, leaving some IDPs in need untreated. Dwindling food supplies have also resulted in malnutrition among camp residents.

Conditions at the IDP camps have led some youth to attempt to cross into China in order to find work, making them targets for human traffickers, according to sources in the border camps.

“Knowing the difficult living conditions at the refugee camps, Chinese people particularly try to persuade young women and children from the camps [to cross into China]. Everyone from the camps has been warmed and taught not to trust and follow them,” said Mai Jya, who is campaigning against human trafficking along the Sino-Burmese border.

Young unmarried Kachin girls from IDP camps, typically between 15 and 16 years old, fall prey to human traffickers, according to Mai Jya.

Burma’s police force and its anti-human trafficking task force told The Irrawaddy that they were cooperating with officials from the Chinese government in an effort to root out human trafficking in Kachin State.

Burma’s central government and the KIA managed to reach a seven-point accord in late May, in which the two sides agreed, among other things, to “undertake efforts to achieve de-escalation and cessation of hostilities.” Clashes have nonetheless taken place sporadically since then, even as the government trumpets plans for a ceremony next month at which it says a “nationwide ceasefire” will be signed with the country’s many ethnic armed groups.