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Displaced people forced to return home in Myanmar

There is increased anxiety among those who returned and they may flee again if fighting flares up
People fleeing due to fighting between the military and the Karen National Union (KNU) line up to receive food at a temporary lodging for internally displaced people (IDPs) in Karen state, along the Thai-Myanmar border, on Dec. 25, 2021

People fleeing due to fighting between the military and the Karen National Union (KNU) line up to receive food at a temporary lodging for internally displaced people (IDPs) in Karen state, along the Thai-Myanmar border, on Dec. 25, 2021. (Photo: AFP)

Published: March 20, 2023 11:15 AM GMT
Updated: March 20, 2023 11:16 AM GMT

Displaced people in conflict-torn Myanmar have started returning home despite security concerns as the junta stepped up its plan to close down their camps.

Hundreds of internally displaced persons (IDPs) have packed their belongings and are gradually leaving for their places of origin in the predominantly Christian Kachin state where they’d taken refuge since renewed fighting in 2011.

Nearly 25 camps in Myitkyina, the capital of the northern region, are to be closed as the military authorities reportedly ordered the IDPs to leave by March-end, according to local sources.

Benedette Ja (not her real name), a Catholic IDP from a camp in Myitkyina, said that nearly 200 people left and around 150 people remain in the camp.

“Some IDPs who returned to their village have reportedly fled again due to ongoing fighting,” she told UCA News.

Maria Seng (name changed), another IDP, said that some families have returned to the village to observe the situation and start working while others returned under the official arrangement made by local authorities.

“IDPs have no other option so they have returned to their homes under pressure as their camps are closing and there is a shortage of funds from aid groups,” Seng told UCA News.

She said security remains the main concern for the returned people and they will flee again if fighting flares up.

Local sources said those who couldn’t go back to their places of origin opted to move into a resettlement area provided by local authorities.

The IDPs were given three options – return to the place of their origin, move to a resettlement area, or make their own plans and move out of the camps, according to local sources.

More than 101,500 people are staying in camps in Kachin State, including 11,900 people who were displaced by the military coup in 2021, a UN refugee agency said in a report on Feb.16.

The state’s 1.7 million people are mainly Christians, including 116,000 Catholics.

Aid groups have called for a safe environment for IDPs to return to their homes.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has said the local general administration department met with camp leaders in Kachin to encourage the displaced people in camps to return to their places of origin by the end of March “without a viable plan for rehabilitation.”

“This forced return was reported in Shan and Rakhine States as well and this has led to increased anxiety among camp communities as most of their home villages may be contaminated by landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) or occupied by active military forces,” the agency said in a March 13 report.

The Southeast Asian nation has been mired in political, economic, and humanitarian crises since the military toppled the elected civilian government on Feb. 1, 2021.

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