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Fleeing Kachins' needs grow urgent

Aid workers report critical shortages of food, medicine and shelter

Kachin refugees in Lana Zup camp Kachin refugees in Lana Zup camp
  • John Zaw, Lana Zup
  • Myanmar
  • September 11, 2012
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Kachin refugees forcibly repatriated last month from Yunnan province in China say they face critical shortages of food, medicine and adequate shelter.

More than 3,400 Kachin villagers displaced by ongoing fighting between government soldiers and ethnic rebel forces were forced to return to Myanmar as their makeshift camps across the border were dismantled by Chinese authorities.

Tu Lum, head administrator of the Lana Zup camp where about 1,400 repatriated refugees now reside, said the camp is struggling to meet the needs of its residents, who are far from their home villages and without vital supplies.

He said that despite some aid from the UN and local aid groups, refugees “will need more food and medicines as more repatriated refugees from China arrive.”

The new arrivals have doubled the number of people at the camp.

Daw Lu, 50, a Baptist woman who was among the last groups of refugees sent back from China to Lana Zup, said conditions in the camp are particularly hard on older people.

“We are sleeping on the floor because new shelters are not ready yet. It’s not good for the health of the elderly,” she said.

Father Luke Kha Li, who administers another refugee camp in Mang Wing village in Kachin state, said the UNHCR is helping to build new shelters and repair old ones but that the camp needs additional supplies.

Aid workers in the area say the refugees have been divided up between Lana Zup and Mang Wing camps. Nearly 300 others have camped along a stream that runs between the Myanmar-China border.

Mary Khon Ja, a Catholic nurse staying with refugees along the border stream, said conditions in the area are dire.

“We need medicine, more proper shelter and more toilets. There are only nine toilets so far for 279 people.”

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported last week that about 3,400 refugees had been repatriated from China after being displaced when their homes were destroyed by fighting in Kachin state.

The repatriation was widely condemned by rights groups and the United States government.

“China is flouting its international legal obligations by forcibly returning Kachin refugees to an active conflict zone rife with Burmese army abuses,” said Bill Frelick, refugee program director for Human Rights Watch, in a statement on August 24.

The following week, US State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell urged the Chinese government to adhere to international protocol. Refugees should be repatriated only if they choose to return home, he said.

China’s Foreign Ministry dismissed the criticism, saying the refugees were not forcibly repatriated but had returned home because the fighting had subsided.

The armed conflict between Myanmar government forces and the Kachin Independence Army broke out in June last year, ending a 17-year ceasefire.

Related reports:

China repatriates Kachin refugees: priest
Kachin refugees fear ouster from China

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