UN counts 55,000 displaced Kachin

The number of people forced to flee their homes by fighting in Kachin state rose to 55,000 in January, while new areas of displacement have been reported both in Kachin and northern Shan state, where the conflict spread to last year, the UN says.

Nearly 8,000 students are also struggling to access education across 10 Kachin townships, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a report last month that gained little public attention. It warns of dwindling aid supplies in the nearly 90 makeshift refugee camps that have sprung up in the northern state since June last year.

It said that more food aid was needed in response to the “deterioration of the security situation” in and around the conflict zone. Outbreaks of diarrhea have been reported in a number of refugee camps close to the China border.

Up to 3,000 migrant workers and 2,000 natives were forced to flee the jade-rich township of Hpakant “following security incidents” in early January, although it didn’t comment on what precisely happened. Four camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Namkhan township in Shan state have also received around 1,000 people since 11 December.

A number of temporary schools have been opened by the Kachin state government to cater for 3,153 students affected by the fighting. The report said that in Shan Kyaing village, only 13 percent of primary school children continue to attend school.

The conflict between the Burmese army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) is now in its eighth month. Although reports suggest the intensity of the fighting has eased, skirmishes are continue to break out and Burmese troops are still camped out in locations close to rebel territory.

According to The Irrawaddy news website, a chief negotiator for the government told KIA officials that it could take up to three years for peace to return to Kachin state. The government has attempted to broker ceasefires with other groups, including the Karen National Union, although these have not been watertight and clashes continue.

Aid groups have warned the tens of thousands of Kachin holed up in refugee camps against attempting to return home, given the ongoing presence of Burmese troops. Although President Thein Sein has on two separate occasions told troops to cease attacks on the Kachin, the demands have not been heeded and fighting continues.

An NGO worker who has visited a number of the Kachin camps told DVB on condition of anonymity that a number of the camps’ new inhabitants had arrived from hideouts in the jungle. “There are concerns such as health matters – there were pregnant women due for delivery, and for them to still be in the jungles for the long-term [is risky] so they came to the camps.”

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