Mon 11 Aug 2014
Filed under: Human Rights,Inside Burma,News,Religion
Girls and young women in brightly coloured dresses and laden with food parcels, many heavy with vermicelli pudding, dodge the rain in Meiktila.
It is the end of Ramadan, the lunar month during which Muslims fast between daylight hours. After darkness descends, they break their fast with the long-awaited Eid al-Fitr feast. Only this year there was little to celebrate, as thousands of fellow Muslims remain in limbo in the three of the city’s five displaced camps.
More than 10,000 people – mostly Muslims, although a quarter were Buddhist – were displaced in the March 2013 communal violence that saw more than 40 people killed. About a third of that number still remains in the temporary camps set up after the conflict.
The Muslim community was clearly hardest hit; official records show that almost 2000 Muslims fled the town, and only six of the 13 mosques in the city remain undamaged and open to those who remain.
In the district stadium camp where more than 900 Muslims shelter, many feel they have swapped their homes for a prison-like existence.
“We feel we are under house arrest. The camp gate looks like a jail gate. We can’t be happy today like on previous Eid days because our minds do not feel free. Here, we can go out at any time in the morning, but we have to be back not later than 7pm,” said camp resident Ko Min Min, who works as a painter.
While Ko Min Min has been allowed to leave the camp and live in his former home because he could show ownership documents, the house was damaged and he doesn’t have enough money to rebuild it.
It’s a similar story in the Water Resources Utilisation Department camp, where residents say they have to cope with poor sanitation.
“We have lost our basic rights while we are living in the camp because the toilets are not good. We feel like we are in an internment camp. [It affects] our social life, health, business – everything,” resident U Tin Maung Cho said.
“Our household has 10 members. This is good because some can go out of the camp for work during the day but we feel very depressed at night,” he said. “It has been more than a year. Construction of resettlements has been completed … [and] I would like to move there as quickly as possible.”
In the district stadium camp, about one-third of residents have property ownership documents. Many of those who lost their ownership documents when their homes were destroyed by Buddhist mobs suspect the authorities have no intention of allowing them to go back.
But U Tint Wai Thone, the head of the district administrative office, said officials are concerned that residents will continue to stay on in the camp rather than go home.
“We resettle them to live in their original place but they don’t go from here,” he said. “We can accept those who have no place to live but we will check everyone who is still in the camp and see whether they have somewhere else to go.”
The authorities want to relocate some people to detached houses funded by the Yaung Net mosque in Chan Aye Thar Yar ward, he said, but they are still waiting for most of them to be built.
With money raised by Yaung Net and other donors, 350 detached houses worth more than K7.6 million and 172 semi-detached houses will be built.
More than 100 detached houses have already been completed.
“But we do not know how they will transfer those buildings to the original owners,” said U Khin Than, a member of the committee in charge of rebuilding homes in Chan Aye Thar Yar ward.
U Tint Wai Thone promised that more houses would follow.
“After completing a detached house, the regional government will build roads, electrical power and a running water system,” he said. “We’ve asked the Union government, through the regional government, to develop semi-detached houses with government funds and to complete them quickly.”
Translation by Thiri Min Htun