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No government assistance is being given to the thousands of refugees running low on food in northern Burma’s Myitkyina, while international aid workers are being forced to work covertly, locals and regional monitoring groups have said.
Refugees have been arriving daily in the Kachin state capital as fighting continues between Burmese forces and the opposition Kachin Independence Army (KIA). They are thought to number more than 2000.
Churches and local family networks have so far shouldered the burden of the influx, but are low on supplies. The situation is similar in the town of Waimaw, which is also under the jurisdiction of the central government.
“We haven’t heard of any assistance being given by the government,” said Shirley Seng, spokesperson of the Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT).
A Myitkyina local said that government officials had not visited the refugees, despite many having been there for two months. “The refugees are not receiving any aid from the government or the township administration – not even a bag of rice or a peiktha of salt.”
Many are holed up in churches or makeshift shelters in the town, while others have been able to stay with family members. Hundreds have fled from the Bhamo district of Kachin state, which has seen the heaviest fighting since a 17-year ceasefire between the two sides officially ended on 9 June.
The government has been reluctant to comment on the fighting, which stems largely from the KIA’s refusal to become a government-controlled Border Guard Force – the same reason why a number of ethnic armies in Burma’s northern and eastern frontier regions are now at war.
Shirley Seng said that even international NGOs are not officially allowed to assist the refugees, and are being forced to work underground. Despite Myitkyina being within the remit of the UN’s operations in Burma, groups like the World Food Programme have not publicly assisted.
“The government isn’t allowing any help to the refugees because it doesn’t want to show the international community that there is a problem with ethnic groups, that there is fighting,” she said.
She said that lack of funds for local groups meant there is “less and less support for the refugees” as food and medicine stocks risk running dry.
The hundreds that have fled across the border to China also face a precarious situation, with Yunnan provincial authorities reportedly telling locals close to the border not to provide any shelter for the refugees.
Those that made it to Laiza, the headquarters of the KIA, are for now being provided with enough food, reports suggest, although the Burmese army is within close range of the town.