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Waiting for Solace

Carlos Sardina Galache The Irrawaddy

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MEIKHTILA — Two weeks after a wave of anti-Muslim violence engulfed Meikhtila, Mandalay Division—leaving at least 40 dead and 61 injured—more than 12,000 mostly Muslim residents of the city shelter in camps for the displaced. Most of the camps are improvised in schools under the control of the Burmese government. In recent days, journalists have been barred from entering the camps. According to a local National League for Democracy politician, aid organizations have been forced to leave deliveries at the camp gates.

But despite the restricted access to Burmese government-run camps, The Irrawaddy managed to visit an unofficial camp about 20 km from Meikhtila. The camp, which The Irrawaddy gained access to, is run by a businessman from a city near Meikhtila, who requested anonymity. About 3,400 displaced Muslims are crowded into this camp, which costs about US $30,000 per day to run. The camp is functioning without major problems, but without external aid in the near future, the situation could degenerate. Residents at the camp also fear further attacks like the ones that erupted in March.

One side effect of the violence has been a leveling of social differences between Muslims in the camp. Previous social and economic circumstances are irrelevant in a place where people from all economic classes share the same fate. A travel agent shares the same space as a rickshaw driver. Most are uncertain about the future, and fear their situation could become permanent, as has happened to the Rohingya and other Muslims in Arakan State. The Burmese government has said it will rebuild all of the houses in Meikhtila within two months, but few put any trust in this pledge. In the meantime, there is little for the Muslims in this camp to do except wait for the future with apprehension.