China Forces Thousands of Kokang Refugees Back to Myanmar

2015-03-04
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Volunteers at the Maidihe refugee camp straddling the Myanmar-China border are told to move out of a warehouse on the Chinese side, March 4, 2015.
Volunteers at the Maidihe refugee camp straddling the Myanmar-China border are told to move out of a warehouse on the Chinese side, March 4, 2015.
Photo courtesy of a Kokang volunteer

Tens of thousands of refugees from fighting in the northern Myanmar region of Kokang near the border with China are being evicted from at least two camps in China, refugees and aid workers said on Wednesday.

"The entire Chinese government is now forcing all of the people who are on Chinese territory to go back across the border to Myanmar," an aid worker surnamed Li in the border town of Maidihe told RFA.

He said aid workers at the Maidihe camp were in the process of shifting stores of food, bedding, and other relief supplies into Myanmar after being told their storehouse was in the way of the spring crop-planting.

"We are shifting everything out of our warehouse right now, because the Chinese authorities won't let us store it here on Chinese territory,"

"They won't let us keep the supplies here. We have to move them across the river [into Myanmar]," said Li, who said he is part of a volunteer group of aid workers in the camps.

The storehouse hadn't taken up very much land, he said.

Li said the inhabitants of Maidihe had been told to leave, while refugees at another camp in Nansan township, a 30-minute drive from Maidihe, had already been evicted.

"They have been forced to leave their temporary housing accommodation and have been sent back across the border into Myanmar," he said.

Many still try to cross

In Camp No. 125 on the Myanmar side of the border, several hundred people continued to arrive daily this week, many of them refugees forced back across the border from China, aid workers said.

"They're not allowing any refugees to cross the border into China any more," a volunteer who declined to be named told RFA on Wednesday.

He said refugees who walked across into China via mountain paths to avoid border checkpoints were also being sent back to Myanmar.

"In the past few days ... [the Chinese authorities] have been forcing civilians to come back here," the volunteer said.

"The camps [in China] aren't taking refugees any more. They are starting to tell them to leave."

Maidihe aid workers told RFA on Tuesday that Chinese authorities were blockading the roads, preventing relief supplies from reaching the camp, and that supplies of rice had already run out as a result.

They said the blockade had already caused the deaths of two refugees who were unable to seek emergency medical help.

China distances itself

myanmar-kokang-refugees-mother-and-son-march-2015-400.jpg
A Kokang refugee with her child, March 4, 2015. Credit: Kokang volunteer Photo: RFA
Fighting began on Feb. 9 in Laukkai, capital of the special region of Kokang near Myanmar's border with China, between army troops and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) rebel forces.

The MNDAA under ethnic Chinese commander Peng Jiasheng are trying to retake the Kokang self-administered zone, which it had controlled until 2009, forcing a wave of refugees away from the conflict zone and across the border into China.

The MNDAA is allied with three other ethnic minority armies: the Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), and part of the Shan State Army (SSA), although the KIA has remained in the region it controls, rather than fighting alongside MNDAA troops.

Sources near the front line of the fighting between Myanmar government troops and the ethnic Kokang rebel alliance said an estimated 200 civilians have been killed by government troops since the start of the conflict.

Beijing has been at pains to distance itself from involvement in the Kokang conflict following tensions with Myanmar's ruling military junta over the role played by its citizens in supporting the ethnically Chinese Kokang side.

However, Chinese authorities had previously offered reliable humanitarian aid to some 100,000 Kokang refugees who fled to Yunnan, aid workers said.

"The Yunnan government provided humanitarian assistance, but they felt that there were too many people coming over, so they closed their borders," a volunteer at a refugee camp in Kokang told RFA.

He said some 70,000-80,000 refugees are now encamped in the border region after being turned away from China.

"[They] are spread across several locations, with about 4,600 people in camp 125 yesterday," the volunteer said.

Relief supplies cut off

He said China's armed police are also preventing donated supplies from crossing the border to reach the refugees on the Myanmar side.

"The bad news is that the armed police sealed one of the mountain paths [on Tuesday], so nobody can get through that way," he said.

"None of the relief supplies can get out of China now, so we are trying to think of something."

Much of the relief effort has come from volunteers and overseas donations, rather than from government sources, according to local sources.

Customs authorities in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen on Tuesday seized a shipment of medical supplies intended for refugee camps in Yunnan, a donor group said.

"There were two cases of medicines donated by a private clinic in Hong Kong for us to send to the refugee camps," Hong Kong-based volunteer Tian Jun said.

"We asked some missionaries to take them through for us, but they were searched, and one case was confiscated," he said. "They didn't dare to try taking the other case."

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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