Myanmar boys are pictured at the Baptist Church-run Ja Maing Kaung camp for internally displaced people (IDP) near the Kachin State capital of Myitkyina in this April 2017 file photo. (Photo by ucanews.com)
With peace between Myanmar's military and various armed ethnic groups proving elusive, Peter Nawng Lat, a displaced Kachin, says he has no option but to move to a new resettlement area after spending six years at a camp.
He has lived in the shanty for internally displaced people (IDPs) in northern Shan State since 2012 but plans to move soon to the village of Gala along with other Catholics.
"The sporadic outbursts of fighting near our village have more or less stopped, but the security threat stops us from going home because there are still armed ethnic groups nearby," he said.
Some 130 IDPs — all of them are Catholics except for one family of Baptists — plan to relocate to an area halfway between their village and the town of Kutkai in early 2019.
"We will have to struggle in our daily lives and adapt to a new environment but we see this as a good long-term strategy," Nawng Lat, an ethnic Kachin who helps run the camp, told ucanews.com.
He said they would also work as evangelizers as the area around the camp is also home to Baptists, Pentecostals and Buddhists.
Gala is now under the control of the Kachin Defense Army, a Kutkai-based militia that has agreed to a ceasefire with the military.
Karuna (Caritas) Myanmar, the church's social arm, has been stepping up its resettlement plan for IDPs in Kachin and northern Shan State as many people have lived in the camps since the summer of 2011. Reports say China has been complicit in stopping aid from reaching the area.
Bishop Raymond Sumlut Gam, the chairman of Karuna Myanmar, said the agency is considering the plan and had designated areas where there have not been any clashes for a long while, deeming them safe for the IDPs.
"If the peace process goes smoothly, that could help to speed up the resettlement plan," said Bishop Gam, who also serves as the bishop of Banmaw Diocese in Kachin State.
Those living in camps are growing frustrated in waiting for peace to be fully restored which would allow them to begin rebuilding their lives.
"We prioritize the safety of IDPs and setting in motion a long-term plan to guarantee their livelihood, education, and healthcare," he told ucanews.com.
An elderly Kachin man is pictured at the same camp. (Photo by ucanews.com)
About 70 families from Myanmar's Banmaw Diocese have already migrated from the camp to the resettlement area some 23km away, Bishop Gam said.
The church is working with other NGOs in the village, which sits in a government-controlled area, to get it up and running, he added.
Since 2011, more than 100,000 people have been forced into 167 IDP camps in parts of Kachin and Shan that are variously controlled by government and non-government forces.
Fighting has plagued this mountainous northern region since Myanmar gained its independence from Britain in 1948. Most of Kachin's 1.7-million Kachins are Christians, including 116,000 Catholics.
Roi Ja, a displaced Kachin from the Catholic Church-run St. Paul Ja Maing Kaung camp near Myitkyina, the Kachin capital, said IDPs realize there is no prospect of them safely returning home at this point.
About 26 families from the camp want to relocate to a government-arranged resettlement area in Wai Maw, a township near Myitkyina, and have already submitted their names to the local authorities, according to Roi Ja.
"People are interested in Wai Maw because it's close to Myitkyina, which means more jobs and schools," she added.
She said three families from the camp have already moved to Mogaung township in Kachin, where new housing has been built to accommodate 20 families so far. The camp is largely funded and run by the church.
In June the state government built 95 low-cost houses in Wai Mai for IDP's who were residing at either the Thagara Thayettaw monastery or Khat Cho camp.
Naw Din is a program coordinator for Karuna Banmaw, a branch of Caritas Myanmar. He said some of the displaced people want to live with their relatives in the town but others prefer the resettlement area.
"Most of them are putting employment opportunities and access to education first as they know it will be a while before they can return home," he added.
In June the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement drew up a plan to close all of the IDP camps in the four states of Kachin, Shan, Rakhine — home to the Rohingya — and Karen.
Yet aid groups warn that conditions must be safe before they can return home, and that they must return of their own volition.
Bishop Gam described the government's plan as a good start because the lack of income is causing financial and psychological problems for those who are living in the camps.
"The key issue is security," he said. "People may flee again if the fighting resumes."
The Kachin Baptist Convention also provides aid to IDPs in Kachin and Shan and aims to implement resettlement plans in the former.
Bishop Gam visited Sri Lanka from July 1-8 to learn about how resettlement is progressing there in the wake of the island nation's 1983-2009 civil war with the Tamil Tigers.
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