Up to 80,000 people living in a shantytown in Rangoon’s Dagon Seikkan Township have been declared illegal squatters and are now facing eviction.
Township authorities have given residents living in Wards 61, 67 and 93, whose houses they say were illegally built on fallow land, until 16 February before thousands of homes are bulldozed.
Those who refuse will be forcibly evicted under article 21(1) of the 1989 Lower Burma Town and Village Lands Act and could face jail time.
Hla Kyi, Administrator for Ward-93, said the residents have no choice but to follow the order.
“This order was passed down directly from the township authorities and so we have no choice but to follow it,” he said.
Most residents in the makeshift slum were victims of Cyclone Nargis in 2008. Thousands moved to the site after losing their homes in western Rangoon and the Irrawaddy delta in the disaster which left up to 140,000 people dead.
Dagon Seikkan is one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Rangoon and many people can only earn a living by doing odd jobs and menial labour.
“We are preparing to move out and take down our huts by the deadline,” said community leader of Ward-93, Soe Myint.
“The mass eviction is ordered by the government so there’s nothing else we can do.”
Locals have made a final request to township authorities to give them a little more time as many children are due to sit important exams at the end of the month.
“There are 1,470 homes and over 5,000 people in Ward-93 including around 500 primary, middle and high school students,” said community leader Thein Aung.
“They are about to sit their end-of-year exams so we are making a request to the authorities to give us some more time.”
On 4 February, hundreds of ‘‘squatter homes’ in Rangoon’s Hlegu District were demolished by bulldozers following a similar order.
If the villagers are forced to leave, it will be the largest displacement by forced eviction in Burma’s history.