Monthly rations of international aid to the Ee Tu Hta camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Papun District, Karen State, will stop at the end of September.
Although the cessation of international aid to the camp had been projected 18 months ago, the local branch of the Karen National Union (KNU) has appealed for international groups to continue funding education, health and aid projects until such time as peace prevails in the region.
“The KNU believes that as long as the political issues remain unresolved in Karen State, neither the IDPs nor refugees can return to their homes,” said Padoh Nay Tha Blay, a central executive member of the KNU in Papun. “The Burmese army has yet to withdraw its military bases from the area where those villagers originally resided, so they are scared to return to their homes.”
He noted that, despite a ceasefire signed between the KNU and the Burmese government in October 2015, the majority of Karen refugees do not feel the situation is safe enough to return to their homeland. On 24 May, the IDPs at Ee Tu Hta staged a demonstration calling for the withdrawal of Burmese military forces from the area, and the clearance of landmines.
Sally Thompson, executive director of The Border Consortium, which oversees international aid distribution to 100,000 refugees at the Thai-Burmese border, lamented that the cessation of aid to Ee Tu Hta was inevitable.
“Humanitarian funds are no longer available for Southeast Myanmar as donors have priorities elsewhere,” she told DVB by email on Friday morning. “The focus in the Southeast is now on early recovery and development. This means that IDP communities have to shift away from their traditional mechanisms for funding and look to other sources, which is largely through multi-lateral donor funds. Some local CSOs are already accessing these funds which can be utilised for livelihoods and projects that build sustainability.”
TBC recognises that the current situation in Papun is not conducive to the large-scale return of refugees, Thompson added.
“It is not easy; the peace process could take years,” she said. “There is much uncertainty ahead, but people need to rebuild their lives outside the confines of a camp.”
Ee Tu Hta IDP camp was originally set up in 2006 for Karen villagers who had fled conflict in Taungoo and Nyaung Lay Bin districts. According to TBC, it currently has a population of 2,662.