Friday, August 19, 2011

‘We have to Dance to the Rhythm of War Music’: Kachin Refugees

Saturday, 13 August 2011 13:16 Banyar Kong Janoi

Photo: Banyar Kong Janoi

Download Burmese Rights groups are calling on international humanitarian organizations to help the growing number of people fleeing the conflict between the Kachin Independence Army and Burmese government army.
Thousands have already been displaced from the conflict that started in June.
As fight spreads to neighboring Shan and Karen states hundreds more are fleeing to the Chinese border everyday.
Local refugee groups as they don’t have the resources to look after them.
Banyar Kong Janoi reports from a make-shift camp in Laiza.
In a city hall in Laiza, children run between rows of sleeping mats laid out for war refugees.
On strings above hang their clothes.
This is not the first time seventy year old Hka Lam Rai Ja has been displaced.
“It was in 1985 when the fighting broke out near our village. We faced lots of difficulties as my children were still very young. They could not walk by themselves, so I had to carry them and our belongings at the same time. We had nothing to eat, so we made porridge from banana trunks and we lived on that for a long time. It was so difficult to survive.”
Even when a ceasefire was signed between the Kachin rebel forces and the Burmese government and she was able to return home life was not easy.
“When we returned to our home, we faced immense difficulties because the price of rice was so expensive. We lost everything: chickens, pigs and cattle at that time. Each member of the family had only one outfit of clothes.”
When she heard fighting had started in early June she fled again through the jungle, walking for a day with six members of her family to reach Laiza.
“Now I am old. I thought we could live peacefully but this happened unexpectedly. I am on the run from war again. I want to live in peace but what can we do?”
Her thirty five year old Myi Tung Kai Htang says they didn’t want to take any chances.
“We have been hearing the news from the fighting: if the Burmese soldiers saw women, they raped them; the men would be tortured and killed. So we were afraid that we would be the next victims so we left our village. On the way, it was raining, children were sick and crying; old mother felt dizzy and fell down. It was really hard.”
Both sides blame each other for the latest round of fighting that ended a 17 year ceasefire.
The Kachin independence army says they will continue fighting until they are granted a certain degree of autonomy over their own affairs which would guarantee respect for their own rights and culture.
After two months in the refugee camp 49-year-old Maru Hkawn just wants to go home.
“No matter how small or nice our house is we miss home but I don’t know when we can go back. We are waiting for the fighting to stop. I don’t know what the future holds. We have to dance to the rhythm of war music.”  
Some 17,000 people have been displaced since the fighting broke out in the early June.
Most of people left their home in anticipation rather than in response to the fighting.
Anticipating a long war, the Kachin Independence Organization has started to build 500 bamboo houses along the Chayan river outside of Laiza which will accommodate 7,000 people.
In a small bamboo built clinic, a child is crying and about 10 other refugees are lying down on the floor waiting to be seen.
Lan Hai is the only doctor here working alongside three nurses.
“Most of them are suffering diarrhea. Some get infected malarias. I have seen three of children die because of diarrhea.”
Right now the clinic is running with KIO’s assistance but Dr Lan Hai is worried they will start running out of supplies soon.
La Rip, coordinator of a refugee relief committee for the Kachin.
“The resources we have, do not match the basic need of IDPs. In the long period of time plan, we should find international donors who really can take care of this IDPs’ rations and assistances. I think the way we are doing, the way we are receiving donations, are not sustainable.”
Neighboring China has been sending back Kachin refugees fleeing the violence.
“We have been very much concerned about their security, as well as health sector and education sector and also their rights. They have nowhere to demand their rights. If they have to flee to China and that is not secure enough: the Chinese government is not given any assurance vocally to the IDP people that they would take an initiative step to take an action on the rights of IDP people to take care of refugees.”

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