War Refugees in Myanmar’s Rakhine State Face Housing Crunch as Monsoon Looms

myanmar-rathedaung-idp-rakhine-apr-2020.jpg A Myanmar civilian displaced by armed conflict drinks some water at a makeshift dwelling in Rathedaung township, western Myanmar's Rakhine state, April 2020.
RFA video screenshot

About 8,700 civilians displaced by ongoing armed conflict in Myanmar’s war-ridden Rakhine state require emergency shelter before the onset of the annual monsoon season because a local Buddhist monastery cannot accommodate them, a local lawmaker and the monastery’s abbot said Tuesday.

Local administrators, lawmakers, and civil society organizations are working together to build 500 living quarters for the IDPs on five acres of township land before annual torrential rains begin in late May, said Khin Saw Wai, a lawmaker from Rathedaung township.

Each living quarters will consist of 10 units in a row and have bamboo floors and thatched roofs, she said, but added that construction can begin only after the April Thingyan Buddhist New Year holiday.

Authorities are now taking a survey of IDPs in the township who want to move into the new living quarters, Khin Saw Wai said. So far, more than 10,000 individuals have indicated that they want to move into the new structures after they are built.

Maung Tun Thar, an IDP from Nyaung Pinhla village who went to Rathedaung town in February to live, said he wants to move into a unit in the planned quarters.

“There are no more spaces left in the monastery, so we’d like to go and live in that place,” he told RFA. “It will be accessible by a roadway, thanks to the efforts of lawmakers.”

Officials are now trying to raise funds to pay for the construction of the new quarters, Khin Saw Wai said

“We’ve got the land to build the living quarters, [but] we are now looking for donations of about 50,000 kyats (U.S. $35) per room,” she told RFA. “We are trying to secure the costs needed for construction.”

“The monastery doesn’t want to host the IDPs for the long term,” Khin Saw Wai added. “We have many other challenges.”

Monastery abbot U Thumana said the IDPs will experience more hardship during the monsoon season, and that they will have to arrange for food and more permanent accommodations on their own.

“During the monsoon, there will be more problems,” he said. “They live in makeshift tents they built on their own. Some are living and sleeping on the ground. We can accommodate some of them, if the [others] have someplace else to go.”

The government built camps for Rathedaung's IDPs in Ywa That Kay and Thaung Dayar villages, but local residents say the displaced civilians do not want to live there because the communities are too far from towns and are at risk of the 15-month-long armed conflict between Myanmar forces and the rebel Arakan Army.

Fighting since the beginning of 2019 has displaced about 157,000 people in northern Rakhine state, with significant increases in the number of civilians who have fled their homes in Kyauktaw, Minbya, and Ratheduang townships in March, according to the latest figures from the Rakhine Ethnics Congress, a local humanitarian relief group.

Reported by Wai Mar Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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