UN Builds 2,500 Shelters for Kachin Refugees

By Saw Yan Naing 19 July 2012

Amid war the escalating conflict in northern Burma’s Kachin State, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it is building 2,500 shelters for civilians displaced by fighting between government troops and ethnic rebels.

“We estimate that more than 48,000 displaced people in Kachin State have received our assistance in the form of mosquito nets, blankets, tarpaulins and plastic floor mats,” Vivian Tan, the spokesperson for the UNHCR in Asia told The Irrawaddy on Thursday.

“We have given them warm clothes to protect their children against the harsh climate, as well as soap, detergent, buckets, pots, plates, cups, cooking and eating utensils,” she added.

Due to hostilities between the government army and Kachin Independence Army (KIA), there are an estimated 70,000 people sheltering in temporary camps in by the Sino-Burmese border. According to KIA sources, 1,640 battles have been recorded since the conflict erupted on June 19, 2011, ending a 17-year ceasefire.

Although official causality figures are not available, rebel sources say that every encounter entails some injuries. Despite repeated attempts at peace negotiations over 13 months of hostilities, no end is in sight.

The KIA reports that government reinforcements including artillery and mortars have been called into the areas around Bhamo Township, in southern Kachin State and in Muse, northern Shan State, both close to rebel strongholds.

The KIA’s political wing, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), last signed ceasefire agreement with the government in 1994 but the truce stood ended on June 19 last year. KIA is thought to have around 15,000 fighting troops and it is Burma’s second biggest ethnic armed group after United Wa State Army (UWSA).

All other major ethnic armed groups—including the Karen National Union, Shan State Army-South, New Mon State Party and Karenni National Progressive Party—have reached ceasefire agreements with Naypyidaw over recent months.

As a result of recent ceasefire agreements, there are reports of more than 150,000 Burmese refugees living in nine camps along Thai-Burma border being repatriated. UNHCR officials have been visiting the area often to discuss the resettlement the displaced.

In May, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) such as the Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC), UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies held a repatriation workshop for community-based organizations to be ready to get involved in repatriation program when it comes sometime in the future.

Asked about the return of Burmese refugees on the Thai-Burmese border, Tan told said that the UNHCR is not yet ready to promote their return.

“Like the refugees, we are closely watching developments inside Myanmar and we are supporting efforts to prepare for possible returns if and when the refugees themselves want to go home,” she said.

“There are still many things that need to be done to show the kind of progress that would help refugees decide for themselves whether conditions are right for them to go home.”