"I can’t trust anything, as I’m not sure yet if we might have to move to another place and for what reason. We are also losing hope for the education and future of our children." (Photo by Dustin Barter/Oxfam)
Accumulating displacements compounding fear and anxiety
By Hkinjawng Naw (Laser) and Dustin Barter
As the resurgence of armed conflict in Kachin continues with increasing use of airstrikes and heavy artillery, the relative safety for displaced people living camps is disappearing. For some, it has meant new displacement, for others it’s constant fear of further displacement. A person now enduring their fourth displacement, recalls their recent experience:
“The intensive fighting broke out on the 28th of December 2016. Mortar shelling and gun shooting started from around 6:00pm to 1:00am. Even within the camp, fierce mortar shelling and gun shooting noises were heard for the whole night. Many mortar shells fell around Zai Awng IDP camp. On that very night, the whole camp had a shocked feeling, like the world is coming to an end.”
With armed conflict in such close proximity to camps, the protection of civilians is extremely difficult. Camp residents initially fled and hid in nearby locations, but when the fighting escalated further, they had to flee once more. Displaced people, totalling over 6,000 (from Zai Awng, Hkau Shau and Maga Yang camps), were trapped between intense fighting and an impenetrable border. Gradually, taking immense risks, many people dispersed throughout Kachin, leaving behind their meagre possessions accumulated since 2011, basic shelter and the previous sanctuary of Zai Awng. These multiple displacements are increasing the sense of desperation, as a former Zai Awng resident explains:
“This time, movement worsened the health and food security situation of sick people, elders, pregnant women and children as this happened during the winter season – the area is very cold and most of us couldn’t bring enough clothes and blankets. Life for us is terrible. I am very very disappointed about my own life, as we are forced to move from one place to another again and again… I can’t trust anything, as I’m not sure yet if we might have to move to another place and for what reason. We are also losing hope for the education and future of our children.”
As these experiences are shared, the desperation is contagious – displaced people living in camps near the relative safety of Myitkyina since 2011 now fear every plane that flies overhead, believing it to just be a matter of time before airstrikes reach them. Increased presence of troops near camps reinforces these fears. Anxiety and fear are displacing any remaining hope, exacerbating the many existing challenges to long-term peace. Aside from the immediate devastation of renewed displacement, these broader impacts are further evidence that peace and reconciliation in Myanmar cannot be achieved through military force. This is already well known. If peace and reconciliation are genuinely national priorities, a cessation of hostilities, unrestricted humanitarian access and the protection of all civilians must be achieved immediately.
This article is part of a series being produced by the Durable Peace Programme giving greater primacy to the voices of those displaced by the conflict in Kachin and the urgent need for civilian protection. The Durable Peace Programme is implemented by a consortium of KBC, KMSS, Metta, Nyein Foundation, Oxfam, SwissAid and Trócaire, and is funded through a seven million Euro grant from the European Union.