By John Zaw
Chinese authorities near the border with Myanmar are pressuring Kachin refugees who have fled fighting to return home, according to a local Church source.
Members of the Kachin Independence Organization this week approached refugees in six camps in the Nongdao district of China’s Yunnan province and urged them to relocate to camps in KIO-controlled territory by the end of the month, Father Stephen Zaw Min Latt told ucanews.com.
“The majority refugees are not willingly to leave the camps in China, as they have concerns for their children’s education and their livelihood,” said the Banmaw diocese-based priest, who has been providing relief services for refugees in the camps.
He added that Chinese authorities have pressured KIO officials to persuade refugees to return home, fearing that outbreaks of diarrhea and hepatitis in the camps – reported last month – could spread outside the camps.
About 4,500 refugees reside in the six camps, of which about 1,000 are school-aged children.
Last month, a report by the Kachin News Group (KNG) said Chinese officials had ordered the relocation of residents of Lang Yu and Law Hpai camps in Nongdao, but that repatriation was halted after negotiations between Kachin and Chinese officials.
KNG also reported last month the construction of a new camp and school in Lana Zup.
Fr Stephen Zaw Min Latt said refugees are reluctant to relocate to Lana Zup because of its distance from their home villages.
He added that if the refugees were forced to leave China, they would likely return to a Catholic Church-run camp in Mang Wing, which he said is already straining to care for the refugees already there.
Fighting between Myanmar government forces and the Kachin Independence Army broke out in June last year, ending a 17-year ceasefire and displacing tens of thousands of people.
Up to 10,000 Kachin refugees have crossed the Chinese border into Yunnan province since that time, according to a report by New York-based Human Rights Watch.