Displaced civilians in Kachin State work to survive despite COVID-19 scare


Internally displaced civilians who fled war in northern Myanmar continue to work outside their camps so they can earn income to buy food despite the government order of lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Travelling outside the camps is the only way they will be able to eat amid shortages of humanitarian aid, camp and government officials said Tuesday.

“About 200 people are going out of the IDP camps every day for work,” said Bran Ming, leader of Jan Mai Kawng IDP camp on the outskirts of Myitkyina in Kachin state. “Some of them have to go out twice a day.”

They go to Myitkyina, the state capital, and to the nearby town of Waingmaw to work, while others head to friends’ houses for jobs or work in villages near the camp, he said.

“Because they must work daily to survive, we can’t lock down the camp, although we want to,” Bran Ming said.

Some people have donated face masks and hand soap, but the supplies are far from enough for the roughly 2,000 IDPs living at the Jan Mai Kawng camp, he added.

Armed conflict between ethnic armies and the Myanmar military in Kachin state have displaced nearly 100,000 civilians who are now living in 138 camps in government-controlled, ethnic army-controlled, and contested areas, according to a report by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs issued Jan. 31.

The IDPS in Kachin state have been displaced since 2011, when a 17-year bilateral ceasefire broke down. Though the warring sides have not engaged in any recent clashes there, the IDPs still believe that it is not yet safe enough for them to return to their permanent homes.

Ample warnings about the spread of the coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, are not holding people back from doing what they have to do to ensure they have enough food to eat, some IDPs said.They also appear unfazed about potentially transmitting the pathogen to other IDPs.

“People have to go outside and work for survival,” said camp resident YweJa. “But we can’t say if they are bringing in the virus from the outside given their contact with others.”

“If we don’t leave the camp and just stay here, then that will be problematic for our survival,” she said. That’s why we want authorities to provide food for the IDPs so that we don’t need to go out.”

Nay Win, Kachin state’s minister of municipal affairs, said officials will provide basic food for the IDPs for a fixed period.

“We will provide rice for all IDP camps for two weeks,” he said. “We will also work on helping them by providing whatever else they need.”

As of Tuesday, Myanmar registered 22 confirmed cases of the coronavirus with three fatalities.

The Myanmar government has ordered the closure of all land border checkpoints to foreign tourists, put in place mandatory 14-day quarantine for foreigners and Myanmar nationals returning to the country, and prohibited public gatherings.

Some state and regional governments have mandated lockdowns to contain the spread of the virus, ordering residents to remain at home and only go out to buy food or receive medical care and temporarily suspending public transportation.

Myanmar’s national level COVID-19 response team said Monday that the government would provide rice, cooking oil, and lentils to those without an income during the 10-day Thingyan New Year holiday beginning April 10. (Source: RFA)