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Aid workers concerned over ambitious plan to close IDP camps

Families displaced from Awng Lawt village shelter at the Jaw Masat Church in Myitkyina, Kachin State. (Photo: Ye Mon / DVB)

The government held a two-day workshop in Naypyidaw over the weekend to finalise plans to shutter displacement camps in Kachin, Shan, Arakan and Karen states, where clashes in the country’s long-running civil wars have sent villagers fleeing in search of safety.

Aung Thurein, director of the social welfare ministry, said the camps were never intended to be a permanent solution and that the government will oversee the safe returnee of displaced people.

“We need to draft a strategic plan first, after that we will start the process to close the camps. If we close the camps, we will also support them to find jobs and access education,” he told DVB on Monday.

Although no proposed timeline has been publicised humanitarian aid groups working inside the camps have already raised concerns.

“People are displaced because of violence. I think we should not focus so much on IDP [Internally Displaced Persons] camp closures, we should focus on the people and what they need,” Fabrizion Carboni, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Burma told DVB.

There are 140 IDP camps with a total population of more than 160,000 across the country, according to the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement.

Recently, more than 6,000 people have fled from their homes and hundreds are stuck in danger zones in Kachin State since clashes reignited between the Burmese military and Kachin Independence Army (KIA) on 11 April.

“These people are displaced and should be able to back as soon as possible and [when it is] safe, they can resume their normal life,” added Carboni.

Union minister Win Myat Aye confirmed on 2 June at the workshop that the government “has no intention to open new camps.”

Sut Seng Hoi, a Kachin Youth Movement Committee leader, said the government shouldn’t close the camps until clashes between the Burma army and ethnic armies ends.

“The Burmese military’s troops are still in the villages. That’s why the civilians don’t want to go back there. The government should make it first,” she said on Monday.

According to the Kachin Baptist Convention, there are more than 60 IDPs camps in Kachin State with a total population of more than 150,000 civilians.

Reverend Hkalam Samson, chairman of KBC added his voice to mounting concerns about the government plan. He believes that the government needs to prioritize the ceasefire process and warns that the situation is different from state to state.

“In Rakhine [Arakan State], they can go back. But the Kachin and Shan people can’t go back homes. There is no peace. It [the ceasefire agreement] should be made a priority,” he said.

In Karen State, more than 5,000 civilians living in IDP camps along the Thai border are also yet to return home as skirmishes continue.

U Tun, a supervisor of Myaing Gyi Ngu IDP camp in Karen State, said civilians are eager to return but fear for their safety.

Instead of wanting to discuss the closure of camps he said his primary concern is enough rations to feed the community, “We are struggling for the food supplies.”