Chin villagers forced to flee clashes between the Burma Army and the Arakan Army (AA) in southern Chin State’s Paletwa Township say they are struggling to survive on the humanitarian aid that they have been receiving since they became internally displaced persons (IDPs).
More than 600 IDPs from five villages in Paletwa Township are currently taking refuge in Meezar, a village located about five hours by boat from the town of Paletwa.
The IDPs, who are living in makeshift bamboo huts, say they can sometimes make up for the lack of aid by working as day laborers, but when work is unavailable, they often have to do without basic necessities.
“When we were in King Thalin, we worked on our farmland and could get by. But since coming to Meezar, we have no livelihood and not enough food. Sometimes we do day labor, but without that, we have nothing,” King Thalin’s headman, Salay Mang, told Khonumthung News.
Most of the IDPs from King Thalin fled to Meezar earlier this year, arriving on January 29 after the AA abducted 54 residents of the village and took them to the Bangladesh border.
According to official figures, of the 640 IDPs currently living in Meezar, 115 are from King Thalin, 229 are from Kon Pyin, 148 are from Peetawng, 87 are from Yin Khanwa, and 61 are from Sathlaingwa. Villagers from Kon Pyin and Peetawng arrived last year, while the others started coming in early 2019.
Over a five-month period, the Burma Army’s IB 289, based in Paletwa, provided 30 bags of rice for the IDPs in Meezar, while the Paletwa Township General Administration Department (GAD) supplied another 130 bags. Some aid has also come from local churches.
“We got 48 bags of rice from two churches this month, and 50 bags from the government. But this still isn’t enough, so we have to ration carefully. Our main need is rice,” Peetawng village headman Per Doh told Khonumthung News.
Lae Lae Khin, a mother of two, said she depended on income from short-term work to make up for the inadequate supply of rice supplied by donors.
“We get some assistance, but it’s not enough for my family. That’s why I have to work as a day laborer. Sometimes I have to carry fish paste, but other times I carry rice bags. This is the only way I can provide for my family,” she said.
But it isn’t just IDPs who are suffering from food shortages. To cut off food supplies to the AA, the Burma Army has imposed strict limits on how much rice can be shipped into Paletwa Township.
“They permit each village-tract to bring in just 50 bags of rice at a time. Before we can go to Kyauktaw in Rakhine State to buy rice, we have to provide a list to the township GAD showing how many people are living in the village-tract. But each village has hundreds of people, so 50 bags doesn’t last long,” said one Meezar resident who spoke to Khonumthung news.
Meezar, which is one of five villages in Meezar village-tract, has a population of 400.
Because of the constant shortages, many villagers go to Tharon Ai, a village near Meezar, to buy rice from a Burma Army camp based there. Each bag costs 50,000 kyat (US$33), which is much higher than the normal price.
According to local aid workers, the army’s restrictions on rice transportation have made it much harder to meet the needs of IDPs.
“We can’t provide rice to these IDPs because of the army’s restrictions. But we can’t complain about it, we just have to follow their rules. Only the authorities can negotiate a way around this,” said Wai Tang, a worker with the Paletwa Social Volunteer Team.
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