The Galeng camp in Kutkai Township in northern Shan State bears no resemblance to the cramped makeshift huts with tarpaulin roofs that you would normally see in IDP camps. With a red dirt main road and lanes flanked by houses with corrugated roofs and maize gardens in their backyards, the camp has an atmosphere of a big village rather than a shelter for those who fled their homes amid fighting between government troops and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).
However, the majority ethnic Kachin settlement, which has been home to more than 1,000 residents for eight years, is a reminder of the protracted conflict. They are among thousands of people staying at IDP camps across northern Shan State. With occasional deadly fighting raging on between the government troops and ethnic rebels, the camp residents’ hopes of returning to their native villages are growing dimmer.
“When the government launched its ceasefire, we were really happy. I thought we would be able to live a peaceful life. But now there is fighting out there and more sleepless nights,” said Dawng Yun, an ethnic Kachin woman who has been at the Galeng camp since fighting erupted near her home village of Nanpu in 2012. Since then the camp has become her home as the area where her village is located has continued to see fighting.
During a recent visit to the camp, The Irrawaddy saw health officials stationed at the gate, checking the body temperature of everyone entering the premises and urging handwashing, while visitors were asked to register their names and contacts. At other camps The Irrawaddy visited, warnings against COVID-19 were posted as well.
Pang Ku IDP camp in Kutkai Township in northern Shan State has been home to more than 600 residents since 2015, when fighting between the government army and a local ethnic armed group, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), broke out. Its proximity to the main road gives the residents, mostly Ta’ang people, access to the Muse-Lashio Highway in 15 minutes; the route links Mandalay in the south with Muse in north.
An 85-year-old Ta’ang woman called I said that while she was happy with the direct access to the highway, life at the camp was hard for residents, as most of them were farmers who tilled their land for a living back home.
The camp at the Kachin Baptist Church in downtown Kutkai was unlike other camps The Irrawaddy visited, located near a bustling market. More than 300 people who fled their homes amid fighting between the government troops and the KIA in 2012 are cramped in rows of long low buildings in a compound owned by the church. The camp relies on UN humanitarian aid programs to feed its residents, according to camp official Seng Tu.