Myo Min Soe / The Irrawaddy

Fleeing the Shells of War, Kachin Civilians Struggle Against Freezing Cold

Myo Min Soe The Irrawaddy
Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint The Irrawaddy

SHAIT YANG VILLAGE, Kachin State — Nearly 2,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) arrived at Shait Yang village in Laiza District, an area controlled by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), on Jan. 21. These IDPs came from the Zai Awng and Hkau Shau camps in Waingmaw Township.

They had to flee the camps in darkness on Jan. 19 when artillery shells—fired in a battle between the Burma Army and KIA—rained down around their camps. These civilians rushed into Shait Yang village, which is situated on the Burma-China border. They expected that Shait Yang would be safe because there were no soldiers there, and because the Chinese and KIA had an agreement not to deploy soldiers too close to the frontier. An IDP and refugee relief committee struggled to assist the new arrivals.

The weather offered no help—the area is one of the few in Burma with snowfall. At night, the temperatures dropped to -4 degrees Celsius (25 degrees Fahrenheit). On Jan. 25, when The Irrawaddy visited, some residents in the camp lacked clothes warm enough to protect them from the bitter cold. Some built fires to stay warm.

“My legs are killing me. They are numb due to the cold,” said 60-year-old Laphai Zau Ra, who wore only a worn-out blue sweater. He said that he’d had no time to grab other clothes when he ran for his life, away from the artillery shells at Zai Awng.

Another IDP, Kawt Mai, said she was afraid of the nighttime because the temperatures were becoming extreme.

“I have never experienced this kind of cold in my life,” she said. “It seems very long when I wait for the day to break.”