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Myanmar’s displaced people forced to leave camps

People displaced by conflict in Myanmar return to their homes from camps despite security concerns, uncertainty, and no viable plan for rehabilitation.

Published: March 24, 2023 11:19 AM GMT

Updated: March 24, 2023 11:19 AM GMT

Thousands of displaced people in Myanmar have started returning home despite security concerns as the military junta stepped up its plan to close their camps.

In the Christian-majority Kachin state, hundreds of camp residents packed up their belongings and are gradually leaving for their places of origin. The military ordered the closure of 25 camps near the state capital Myitkyina by March-end. These camps offered shelter for hundreds of people displaced by conflict since 2011.

A Catholic camp resident said that about 200 people have already left and 150 people remain in the camp. Local sources said that the military offered the displaced people 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.

More than 101,500 people reside in camps in Kachin state, including 11,900 people who were displaced by the military coup in 2021. Aid groups criticized the return saying it is being done “without a viable plan for rehabilitation.”

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)

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A recent verdict from India’s Supreme Court is expected to have wider implications for minority Christian-run higher educational institutions in the country.

The top court ruled last Friday that while a minority educational institution is free to devise its own fee structure, the state has the power to regulate it. It came during the hearing of a petition that challenged the authority of a committee set up by the central state of Madhya Pradesh to regulate fees and admissions in minority-run higher education institutions in the state.

Members of a parents welfare association hold placards during a protest against a hike in fees charged by private schools in Amritsar on Feb. 3, 2018. (Photo: AFP)

The state established the committee in 2007 to fix the fees and supervise the admission process in private higher education institutions following complaints that these institutions were charging exorbitant fees.

Church officials accepted the verdict with mixed feelings, saying that church institutions do not fix admission and other fees to make profits, but to provide excellent structures and modern facilities, which cannot be compared with government colleges. Despite being a minuscule minority, Christians run thousands of educational institutes across India.

Expensive pipe water systems, corruption, and poverty are among the main reasons behind the lack of clean water in millions of households in the Philippines.

People suffering from a lack of access to clean water reacted with frustrations after a government official said almost 11 million families lack access to clean water. National Water Resource Board's Executive Director Sevillo David, Jr. said on Monday that due to the crisis, many people are forced to rely on water from “unprotected sources.”

People in the Philippine capital Manila wait in a queue to collect water from a water point. (Photo: Marissa Carbonel)

He also said lack of water results in poor sanitation that forced some families to defecate in the open, polluting water and soil. High level of corruption is blamed for the lack of a safe water supply.

Availing of clean piped water is expensive in a country where poverty is widespread. The Philippines Statistics Agency reported in 2022 that about 18.1 percent or about 20 million Filipinos lived below the poverty line.

An Indonesian intelligence official has withdrawn a defamation case against an activist Catholic priest who allegedly accused him of involvement in a human trafficking mafia.

Bambang Panji Priyanggodo, deputy head of the Indonesian State Intelligence Agency for Riau Islands Province withdrew the libel suit against Father Chrisanctus Paschalis Saturnus, chairman of the Migrant and Overseas Pastoral Peace Justice Commission of Pangkalpinang Diocese, last Saturday.

Father Chrisanctus Paschalis Saturnus. (Photo: Supplied)

The priest, however, refused to withdraw the human trafficking allegations he made against him. The official is accused of backing a mafia on the islands that smuggle Indonesian workers through ports close to the borders of Malaysia and Singapore.

Riau Islands is known as a transit hub for illegal migrants heading to various countries. Father Saturnus has been hailed for anti-trafficking efforts for years. The case against him sparked protests with priests and nuns seeking the intervention of President Joko Widodo to probe allegations against the official.

Authorities in China’s eastern province of Zhejiang have issued directives asking parents of children in kindergartens to sign a pledge denouncing religious beliefs. Rights groups say the order from officials in Wenzhou city violates the right to religious freedom guaranteed in the constitution.

Following a government order, kindergartens in Longwan district in Wenzhou asked the guardians of students to sign a “Pledge Form of Commitment for Family not to hold a religious belief.” Similar directives were issued in Xiaoshan district of Hangzhou city in Zhejiang in February.

A Chinese boy walks through the aisle during a Mass at a Catholic church in a village near Beijing on Holy Saturday, April 3. (Photo: Jade Gao/AFP)

In Wenzhou, Christians make up a sizable chunk of the population and they have faced persecution in recent years. For two years since 2014, thousands of crosses were demolished as the authorities called them “illegal structures.”

In 2017, the government banned the city’s hospital employees, school lecturers, and all civil servants from entering churches for prayer and worship. Vatican-approved Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin of Wenzhou Diocese was detained by authorities several times since 2011.

Church-run Tak Nga Primary School in Hong Kong announced it will close operations gradually by 2028 due to a decline in student admissions caused by a falling birth rate and staff shortage resulting from the ongoing emigration wave.

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The 63-year-old school in the Kowloon district, run by the Sisters Announcers of the Lord, issued notices to parents and alumni on Tuesday to inform them about the decision.

Students of Church-run Tak Nga Primary School in Hong Kong are seen in this file image. The authorities decided to close the school gradually by 2028 due to a decline in student admission and lack of qualified staff caused by an emigration wave. (Photo: Tak Nga Primary School website)

Media reports say this is the first school in the former British colony that is likely to close since the authorities enacted Beijing-imposed national security law in 2020 to suppress dissent and a pro-democracy movement. Observers say if the current trends continue more schools will be forced to cease operations in the future.

The government figures showed only 32,500 babies were born last year while the schools have the capacity to enroll 50,000 students in grade one every year. In the 2021-22 academic year around 5,000 students left kindergartens, and about 10,000 and 15,000 students quit primary and secondary schools respectively. About 4,000 teachers have also left their jobs.

Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha dissolved parliament on Monday, and announced general election in May. Reports say the former army chief who seized power in 2014 is aiming to extend the army-backed rule.

During the election, Prayut will face challenges from Paetongtarn Shinawatra, daughter of billionaire former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who has been in exile for more than a decade. Shinawatra is leading in opinion polls as the frontrunner, but the 2017 constitution scripted by the military is likely to make it hard for her to secure the top post.

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha (third from right) walks in front of the Golden Buddha statue as he visits Khao Kong temple in Narathiwat district, southern Thailand, on March 15. (Photo: AFP)

In the polls published on last Sunday, Prayut secured third place with 15 percent – way behind Shinawatra at 38 percent. Under the army-drafted 2017 constitution, the prime minister is chosen by the 500 elected lower-house MPs as well as 250 military-appointed senators.

Thailand has seen more than a dozen coups since 1932, and the military-royalist establishment is a major force.

The Cambodian government has slammed the European Union for adopting a resolution that demands all political prisoners be freed and the shuttered independent news outlet, Voice of Democracy, be reinstated ahead of the July elections. The Foreign Ministry said the claims disrespect Cambodia’s independence and sovereign rights.

Last week, the European Parliament adopted three resolutions on the respect for human rights in Iran, Tunisia, and Cambodia. The resolution asked Cambodia to release all political prisoners including the opposition leader Kem Sokha.

Members of the European Parliament take part in a voting session during a plenary session in Strasbourg, eastern France, on March 14. (Photo:AFP)

The former president of the outlawed Cambodia National Rescue Party was found guilty of treason and attempting to mount a color revolution earlier in March and sentenced to 27 years under house arrest and banned from politics for life.

It followed the closure of the media outlet by Prime Minister Hun Sen last month for upsetting his son, Hun Manet, over a disputed quote concerning an aid package for Turkey.

Salesian nuns in the South Korean capital Seoul have started selling traditional fish-shaped cakes on the street as part of a fundraising campaign for children in earthquake-hit Turkey and Syria.

The Salesian Education and Spirituality Center launched the sales of taiyaki, a Japanese fish-shaped pastry with red bean filling, at the beginning of March. The nuns sell taiyaki twice a week and it is to be continued throughout the month.

Children from a local school enjoy freshly baked pastries from nuns at the Salesian Education and Spirituality Center at Singil-dong of Seoul as part of a fundraising campaign for children in earthquake-hit Turkey and Syria. (Photo: Catholic Times of Korea)

The proceeds from sales will be delivered to a community of Salesian nuns in Syria to be used for children affected by the devastating quake in the Middle Eastern countries.

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake in February left an estimated 56,000 dead, injured more than 125,000 people, displaced 2.4 million, and affected as many as 24 million people in Turkey and Syria. Since the earthquake, about 850,000 children remain displaced. About 6.5 million children needed humanitarian aid due to ongoing conflict even before earthquake hit.

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