Fighting in Myanmar’s Kachin State Drives More Refugees Into Camps, With Food Aid Blocked by Government Troops

Refugees also face hardship in camps in Rakhine, where shelters need major repairs ahead of the rainy season.

Fighting in Myanmar’s Kachin State Drives More Refugees Into Camps, With Food Aid Blocked by Government Troops

More than 3,000 refugees have fled their villages in northern Myanmar to escape fighting between junta military forces and the ethnic Kachin Independence Army (KIA) during the last three months, filling refugee camps in Kachin state’s five townships, sources in the region say.

Fighting in the northern state bordering China has intensified since the Feb. 1 military coup that overthrew the democratically elected civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi, and food aid to the refugees has been largely cut off by moves by the State Administration Council, Myanmar’s military rulers, to block roads leading to the camps.

“The most difficult thing is the military blockade of our food transport routes,” said Klem Samson, chairman of the Kachin Baptist Church (KBC), which is working to send help to villagers displaced by the fighting.

“Secondly, it is difficult to send money even if there are people who want to help financially,” he said, referring to nationwide limits now in place to the amounts of cash allowed for withdrawals from the country’s banks.

“These are the two major challenges we currently face,” he said.

A total of 166 refugee camps are currently operating in Myanmar’s Kachin and northern Shan states, with the daily cost to provide food, clothing, and medicine to the camps’ population of nearly 150,000 amounting to around 150,000,000 kyats (U.S.$96,000) a day, the KBC’s Human Resource Development Department said.

Thirteen new camps in Kachin’s Hpakant, Waingmaw, Momauk, Bhamo, and Ingyanyan townships are taking in the 3,000 Kachin refugees displaced in the last three months. At the same time, more than 6,000 mostly ethnic Shan refugees from Momauk have taken shelter in eight monasteries in nearby villages after fighting flared in their area beginning April 10.

“There are about 6,000 at the Bhamo Tagun Daing monastery [alone],” a resident of Momauk’s Zee Kaw village said, adding, “Currently, only farmers and those people who have jobs are now left [in their home villages.]

Speaking to RFA, Abbot Waushang, a Buddhist monk, called on Myanmar’s military, referred to as the Tatmadaw, to lift its blockade on Kachin state roads “so that donations can flow freely to the refugees, since this war was started by the Tatmadaw itself.”

“This would alleviate a lot of pain and suffering, and none of the young people who are doing this humanitarian work are concerned about politics,” he said.

KIA information officer Col. Naw Bu acknowledged the work being done by religious groups to help those displaced by the fighting in Kachin, adding, “It is a bit inconvenient for us to go into the [townships] to help them ourselves.”

“In any case, the KIA is an organization that stands with the people, and if there are problems, we will do everything we possibly can to help them," he said.

Camps need major repairs

In western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where war raged for about two years until a November 2020 ceasefire, more than 46,000 internally displaced persons (ISPs) are living in refugee camps with most of their shelters needing major repairs as the monsoon season approaches, state officials and humanitarian groups say.

“When we made a survey, we found that around 70 percent of the camps were in extremely poor shape, with roofs and shelters badly damaged, and about 30 percent of them in a state of near collapse,” Zaw Zaw Tun, secretary of the Rakhine Nationalities Association (REC), told RFA.

The tents in around 40 of Rakhine’s 141 camps are now damaged, Zaw Zaw Tun said.

More than 2,000 people in 400 families live in the Zaydi Byin camp for internally displaced persons [IDP] in Rakhine’s Rathedaung township, said Moung Saw Win, who works in the camp.

“[But] this camp was originally built as a temporary measure, so it will surely be in very bad shape this year,” he said.

In the Nyaung Chaung IDP camp in Kyauktaw township, where more than 3,000 refugees are now sheltering, buildings are also damaged, said camp administrator Khine Myo Aung.

“In the past, I have seen families sitting huddled in one corner when it rains at night because the roofs and siding are damaged, and we’re facing the same situation again now,” he said.

More than 800 of the camp’s shelters were built in with bamboo and tarpaulins by civil society organizations using funds from private donors and the U.N. refugee agency in February 2019 following fighting between the Tatmadaw and the ethnic Arakan Army, and are now in disrepair, he said.

The Ann Thar IDP camp in Rakhine’s Minbya township—home to over 700 people coming from more than 140 households in Phar Pyo and Thalu Chaung villages—is also in need of major repairs and is not ready for the coming rainy season, said camp official Ann Thar Gyi.

“The shelters were already not strong when they were first built, and so it is unthinkable for them to go through another rainy season,” he said. “When it rains, you can’t stay inside.”

REC Secretary Zaw Zaw Tun told RFA that Myanmar’s military, working in cooperation with international organizations and civil society groups, should take a key role in repairing the houses in the camps.

Asked whether the military’s ruling State Administration Council in Rakhine will provide assistance to the state’s refugee camps, Rakhine State Attorney General Hla Thein said that help will be provided if the refugees ask for it.

“We have a full budget for essential items for the refugees,” Hla Thein said. “For example, if their roofs are blown away by wind, the camp will not have to spend its own money. We can help them right away.”

“It’s the same with the sidings and other things. We have no need to hold back,” he said.

Camp officials said however that their requests for help in last year’s rainy season were never met, and that they won’t be asking again.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Richard Finney.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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North Korean Factory Hunts Down Workers Who Fled for Higher-Paying Fisheries Jobs

With government pay so low, employees of a machinery factory skip work to harvest clams and crabs.

North Korean Factory Hunts Down Workers Who Fled for Higher-Paying Fisheries Jobs

A machinery factory in a North Korean border city has sent agents to track down workers who abandoned their government-assigned jobs when coronavirus idled their plant and headed to the coast to harvest seafood for higher wages, sources in the country told RFA.

The workers fled the Ragwon Machine Complex – a state-of-the-art maker of drills, excavators and pumps in the city of Sinuiju – to work on boats or at aquaculture farms on the Yellow Sea, where picking clams and catching crabs for export to China pays better than state factory jobs.

Even at the showcase factory in Sinuiju, a major city on North Korea’s Yalu River border with China, workers needed side jobs to because paltry government salaries are not enough to feed families.

“Hundreds of workers rushed away to another region of the country without getting factory approval, saying they had to earn money for food,” a resident of Uiju county in North Pyongan province’s told RFA’s Korean Service last week.

“The reason why they are looking for work far away from here is because a limited amount of maritime trade with China has resumed since April, and they are hiring a lot of daily workers for the foreign-currency-earning clam and flower crab farms on the West Sea,” said the source, using the Korean term for the Yellow Sea.

The complex, estimated to have 4,000-5,000 workers, appeared willing to look the other way when hungry workers drifted off last year when production was nearly idled for lack of raw materials brought on by international nuclear sanctions and the closure of Sino-North Korean border during the coronavirus pandemic.

But now that it plans to restart operations with an easing of border closures, workers are ignoring calls to return because they can’t afford to go back to their government-salaried jobs, sources told RFA.

According to the Uiju resident, the factory’s management has organized a task force to search the West Sea aquacultural sites for its missing workers.

“Only some of the workers were caught and forced to come back to work at the factory, but they couldn’t find the rest. It’s not going to be easy to find them either, because they can hide their identities while they go make money at sea,” said the source.

Another source, a Sinuiju resident, told RFA that the Ragwon machinery complex is an example of the regime’s purported shift toward tech since 2011, when Kim Jong Un came to power.

“They say the factory has computers controlling a lot of the manufacturing process, which workers complete using heavy equipment and machine tools, but the surrounding Ragwon-dong is one of the poorest neighborhoods in Sinuiju -- it’s all propaganda,” said the second source, who requested anonymity to speak freely.

“It looks good from the outside, but because of sanctions against North Korea and the pandemic, steel imports aren’t coming in and factory operation has stopped. They cannot even give food rations to their workers,” the second source said.

The second source said that some of the families of the men who work at the factory live in squalor.

“Their wives make tofu to sell at the local marketplace and the family will only eat the leftover pulp. They are struggling to make ends meet right now,” the second source said.

“But since some maritime trade has resumed, the trading companies and foreign-currency-earning seafood industries are hiring men to man fish with nets and fix and maintain boats,” the second source said.

North Korean exports of seafood, which were banned in 2017 by U.N. Security Council sanctions aimed at cutting funds for Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs, used to earn the country an estimated US$300 million a year.

The factory workers have no choice but to abandon their posts for the opportunities at sea, even in the face the harsh punishment of having their membership in the ruling Korean Workers’ Party revoked.

Membership in the ruling Korean Workers’ Party is seen as a status symbol that can also be a gateway to better housing, employment, education and food in the impoverished country.

“However, workers are preparing for punishment and continue trying to make money, saying that it is far more terrifying to starve than to be forced to leave the party.”

Food shortages are affecting labor in many different industries all over the country. RFA reported earlier this month that hungry construction workers in Pyongyang had begun robbing and murdering residents to try to find money to buy food.

U.N Special Rapporteur on North Korean Human Rights Tomás Ojea Quintana warned in a report in March that the closure of the Sino-Korean border and restrictions on the movement of people could bring on a “serious food crisis.”

“Deaths by starvation have been reported, as has an increase in the number of children and elderly people who have resorted to begging as families are unable to support them,” said the report.

RFA reported earlier this month that North Korean authorities were warning residents to prepare for economic difficulties as bad as the 1994-1998 famine which killed millions, as much as 10 percent of the population by some estimates.

Kim Jong Un was quoted in state media in April as saying the country faced grim challenges.

“Improving the people’s living standards ... even in the worst-ever situation in which we have to overcome unprecedentedly numerous challenges depends on the role played by the cells, the grassroots organizations of the party,” Kim said during an opening speech at a meeting of cell secretaries of the ruling Workers’ Party.

Reported by RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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