Shelter Caretaker to Fight Eviction

The founder of a HIV/AIDS shelter in Burma says she will challenge a junta eviction order.
2010-11-19
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Aung San Suu Kyi speaks at a care center for people living with HIV near Rangoon, Nov. 17, 2010.
Aung San Suu Kyi speaks at a care center for people living with HIV near Rangoon, Nov. 17, 2010.
AFP

The founder of a shelter in Burma for patients with HIV/AIDS plans to fight a government eviction order delivered a day after a visit by pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, according to a facility manager.

Ko Yaza, manager of the Rangoon-based HIV/AIDS Patients Care Center, said authorities informed clinic staff on Nov. 18 that the 80-patient shelter would be forced to close operations within a week. They claimed the center had broken government rules.

Ko Yaza, who is a youth wing member of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party, said the notice came just one day after the Nobel laureate visited the clinic and gave encouragement to the patients.

During the visit, when she drew a large crowd hardly a week after her release from house arrest, she called on the ruling military junta to provide better funding for anti-retroviral drugs to help HIV/AIDS patients.

After consulting with NLD lawyers, Aung San Suu Kyi gave the clinic’s founder, Hpyu Hpyu Thin, instructions to take legal action against the government over its decision to close the center, Ko Yaza said.

“With the help of attorneys, Hpyu Hpyu Thin will work on this within legal means,” he said.

“Last night, several patients became delirious. Some were unable to sleep. We were extremely upset. We are not committing crimes in large groups here. We cannot allow the collapse of the fortress that helps these pitiful patients survive,” he said.

Vow to fight

Ko Yaza said he is prepared to go to jail to try to save the facility, located in former capital Rangoon’s Ward 18, in South Dagon township.

“We will continue to remain here. If they take any actions, I will have to suffer. I can't help it.”

“This is a project we have been devoting ourselves to for years, contributing our sweat and tears. We don't have any plans to move just because the township State Peace and Development Council chairman Ko Ko Hlaing told us to,” he said, referring to the official name of the military junta.

Ko Yaza vowed to report the incident to the United Nations and start a letter campaign to garner support.

“I'm planning to do this before they take actions against me or arrest me.”

Hpyu Hpyu Thin said the Burmese government should not be sweeping the HIV/AIDS problem under the carpet, but should work harder to prevent the disease and provide patients with treatment.

“This has become an important issue in Burma. In a matter where everyone should participate, they are saying, 'They must not live there. They must not be kept there,'” she said.

Hpyu Hpyu Thin said the patients should be given the right to choose where they receive care without threat of eviction from the government.

“[The government] has been harassing us for a long time. But Aung San Suu Kyi came on Nov. 17 and the very next day, they pressured the patients and asked them to move,” she said.

“I think that is a very unusual coincidence."

Eviction notice

rangoonaidsclinic305.jpg
Authorities have ordered the Rangoon-based HIV/AIDS Patients Care Center to close by Nov. 25. RFA
The opposition leader was released from seven-and-a-half years of house arrest on Nov. 13, and while she is free to travel and speak, the regime is likely to pressure her to refrain from political activism.

A day after Aung San Suu Kyi's visit to the center, Ko Su Pa, a staff member on duty at the time, was summoned by authorities and told that the clinic and its patients would have to move by Nov. 25.

The clinic’s patients require permission from the government to stay at the facility, and officials said they would not be renewing their monthly permits.

Ko Yaza said the officials had given the eviction order without his knowledge and without informing Hpyu Hpyu Thin or Ko Myat Kyaw, another manager at the clinic.

Ko Su Pa said the regime rattled off a list of rules the clinic had allegedly broken by treating the patients there.

“They said they couldn't allow so many people to stay in the ward. We were told not to keep patients who are not officially registered. They said the patients shouldn’t be housed in a locality with such a dense population. They said they have been here for too long,” he said.

“They said people in the neighborhood are complaining, and that's why we cannot keep them anymore."

He said the authorities threatened him with legal action if the patients were not moved.

“The main thing is that this organization is related to Aung San Suu Kyi and they want it to disappear from this ward and this township,” he said.

He said he suspected that authorities became nervous when they saw the large crowd the pro-democracy leader drew during her visit and decided to shut down the facility. Some 500 people crowded the center at the visit.

‘Please let us stay’

A woman named Ma Yi Yi Nyunt, who traveled to the clinic from Hpyapone township in Burma’s Irrawaddy division, said she and the other patients are relying on Hpyu Hpyu Thin for treatment.

“Those who are on medication are given trials for 14 days to see if the treatment is effective or not. It's been only seven days for me. I have seven more days to go,” Ma Yi Yi Nyunt said.

“There are those who cannot get up by themselves at all. We are from rural areas, and we're here relying on [Hpyu Hpyu Thin]. I don't have my husband anymore and I have four young daughters to take care of,” she said.

“When [the officials] said that, I was really upset. Please let us stay here. Please let us get treatment. That’s all I’m asking for.”

The eviction notice won’t be the first time authorities have forced HIV/AIDS patients to relocate from the care shelter.

Until 2002, patients had been receiving treatment at the Meggin Monastery in South Okkalapa, but were told to leave because the abbot of the monastery was a former political prisoner.

Hpyu Hpyu Thin came to lend assistance when authorities sealed the monastery and set up a temporary shelter for the patients. After her family donated their Rangoon home in 2005, the shelter relocated there.

HIV/AIDS patients in Burma have few options. After the government cracked down on a 2007 monk-led pro-democracy movement known as the Saffron Revolution, patients were no longer permitted to receive care in monasteries.

A UNAIDS report in 2007 estimated that 240,000 Burmese people were living with the disease.

Reported by RFA’s Burmese service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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