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Covid 19

9 years living in crowded camps, displaced people in Myanmar now face COVID

As Myanmar’s Kachin conflict reaches nine year milestone, these powerful photos show daily life for the 120,000 people living in internal displacement camps who are now facing COVID-19

In Je Yang camp, volunteers are taking action to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. They are taking the temperatures of those visiting, and providing communal handwashing and disinfectant stations. In Je Yang camp, volunteers are taking action to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. They are taking the temperatures of those visiting, and providing communal handwashing and disinfectant stations.

It was nine years ago today that the Kachin conflict in northern Myanmar re-ignited. A 17-year ceasefire agreement between the Myanmar military and the Kachin Independence Army collapsed. As a result of the armed conflict, more than 120,000 civilians have been displaced.

The Kachin conflict is not well known and gets little media coverage. The armed conflict on Myanmar’s north began over six decades ago, and continues to this day, creating huge humanitarian needs. For the last nine years, displaced people have lived in over 170 displacement camps across Kachin State and northern Shan State in Myanmar.

On top of the everyday challenges and hardships of living in the crowded camps, the COVID-19 virus has now arrived in Myanmar. Restrictions in travel and movement have caused serious food shortages and decreased opportunities for people in camps to earn an income. Access to camps has been restricted meaning that it is also difficult to get essential humanitarian support in. Daily life has become even more difficult to endure.

Camps under lockdown

Ziun camp in the town of Myitkyina has been locked shut since 8th April 2020. This action has been taken in order to prevent the spread of the pandemic and people are not allowed to exit or enter the camp.

During the COVID-19 lockdown, all regular children’s activities, such as summer school, Sunday school, church meetings and awareness sessions have all been stopped in the camps.

QUARANTINE UNDER THE BEATING SUN

Mai Sak Pa Quarantine Centre was established in April to provide a location to quarantine those coming across the Chinese border. Those crossing the border are required to remain under quarantine for 14 days. As it is summer, the conditions in the quarantine centre are uncomfortably hot. As such, many are living around the centre, sleeping under trees rather than staying in the tents provided.

“I have always supported my children but now I am here in quarantine and can’t support them anymore” says one lady who arrived at the quarantine centre after returning from her job in China. “I worry about whether they are able to survive themselves.”

CLOSED BORDERS MEANS NO DAILY WORK IN CHINA

This is the Je Yang Hka border bridge on the border between Myanmar and China. The crossing is normally used on a daily basis by those from the village of Hpunlum Yang in Kachin State and those on the Chinese side of the border.

Many internally displaced people depend on crossing the border into China to find work such as manual labour.  In normal times, Myanmar and Chinese citizens don’t have to provide any form of identification when crossing the border. Crossing for work is not possible now as the border has been closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This bridge has been closed since March.

PREVENTING SPREAD OF THE DISEASE IN CAMPS

In Je Yang camp, volunteers are taking action to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. They are taking the temperatures of those visiting, and providing communal handwashing and disinfectant stations.

Je Yang camp, like many of the camps, is close to the border with China, in an area outside of the control of the Myanmar government. Here, the Kachin Independence Organisation is in control of this area of territory.

HOW TRÓCAIRE IS RESPONDING

Daw Ndu Roi Shan and Daw Hpau Chyang Kaw at hand washing awareness session at Lawng Hkang Camp. Photo: Ms. Seng Nu Daw Ndu Roi Shan and Daw Hpau Chyang Kaw at hand washing awareness session at Lawng Hkang Camp. Photo: Ms. Seng Nu

Over 200 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Myanmar, according to official government figures (as of 8th June). If the virus spreads to the crowded camps, it could have a devastating impact. As such, Trócaire is working with our local partner organisations across the country, including in thirty displacement camps in Kachin state, to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Our activities include:

  • Distributing face masks, soap and hand sanitiser,
  • Providing personal protective equipment (gloves, masks, aprons and gowns),
  • Running awareness sessions on how to prevent the spread of the disease,
  • Distributing information materials,
  • Establishing community quarantine centres,
  • Establishing a COVID-19 helpline to provide psychosocial support and psychological first aid.

Thanks to your generous support to our work, we continue to provide support to some of the most vulnerable people in Myanmar, and other countries affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photos courtesy of Yawng Htang of Trócaire’s local partner organisation Relief Action Network for IDP and Refugee (RANIR). This photo-story was produced as part of the Durable Peace Programme funded by the European Union.

Durable Peace Programme – Photo Stories are available to download as PDFs in EnglishBurmese and Jingphaw

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