Displaced Kachin Struggle without UN Aid

Steve Tickner The Irrawaddy

LAIZA, Kachin State—On the sandy banks of the Jeyang River that separates Burma and China, hundreds of Kachin families are living in makeshift huts made of bamboo and plastic sheets.

The twin camps of Jeyang and Hpun Lum Yang, located some 10 kilometers south of Laiza, have been their home after they fled the fighting between the Burmese army and Kachin rebels many months ago.

Upon entering the camps, it’s immediately clear that these internally displaced persons (IDPs) cannot count on international aid that is common in crisis areas.

Absent are the usually ubiquitous blue UN tarpaulins, World Food Program rice sacks, or clinics run by medical NGOs such as Medicine’s sans Frontiers (Doctors without Borders).

“At the moment we are managing the needs of the IDPs with a little outside assistance, mostly in the form of cooking oil, and my committee is able to provide enough rice and salt, but meat is in very short supply,” says Salang Kaba Doi Pyi Sa, chairman of the IDP and Refugee Relief Committee (IRRC).

“Even though we are not too worried at present, we are facing increasing difficulties due to more and more border restrictions,” he said, referring to border controls in China, where local NGOs get their supplies.

UN and other international humanitarian support for Kachin NGOs is not forthcoming, as the Burmese government has closed off UN access to rebel-controlled areas since July 2012, citing security risks.

It has has fallen on the IRRC to coordinates aid for IDPs in these areas. It cares for 9,000 IDPs at Jeyang and Hpun Lum Yang, and another 6,000 in camps on the outskirts of Laiza.

Another 26,000 IDPs are living in more than a dozen camps in other rebel-held areas, according to the UN. It estimates that some 30,000 Kachin live in government-controlled IDP camps further south.

Despite the lack of external support, the camp appears in good condition and in Jeyang new housing is being constructed, while there are facilities such as schools and medical clinics.

Although there have been troubling outbreaks of potentially lethal diarrhoea amongst the children, which killed three infants last week, doctors and nurses are hard at work to alleviate the situation.

“Recently a large number of children have been affected by such illnesses as dysentery or diarrhoea,” Doi Pyi Sa said.

At Jeyang camp clinic, a number of children have put on intravenous drips to prevent dehydration, a common cause of death for children affected by the conditions.

Several foreign doctors are also treating patients, but they declined to be identified or photographed, due to the sensitivity of the situation.

Tang Gun, the director of the adjoining Hpun Lum Yang camp, said he was caring for some 1,900 people, about a quarter of who were of student age, while there were about 40 women with newborn babies.

“These people come from 39 different villages and are broken down into 399 households. Here we have a church, a clinic and also a kindergarten for the very young children,” he said. “We have 465 school-age students and over 30 pregnant women.”

Hpun Lum Yang camp is well-kept and there is an even a women’s weaving centre. Yet, a number of bomb shelters—dug next to the schools—provide an ominous reminder of the conflict that rages less than 10 kilometers away.

Tang Gun said it was a daily struggle to provide for his camp.

“Our biggest headache is finding enough food and medicine and sometimes even cooking oil for everyone,” he said. “We desperately need more equipment for our schools”

IRRC Chairman Doi Pyi Sa warned however, that local food aid needs continued to rise, as Laiza residents could no longer visit their farms and livestock outside the town after fighting escalated late last year.

“It has now become far more dangerous to do so and many of the townspeople have joined the long list of people requiring food and essential needs support,” he said, adding that people were worn out by the conditions.

“The residents are weary of the conflict and long to one day return to their homes and a normal life,” Doi Pyi Sa said.