Women relaxing with their children at Mai Na IDP camp in Kachin State, Burma.
At the confluence of the N’Mai and Mali rivers, prized by the Kachin as their people’s birthplace, the Irrawaddy is born. In 2011, a planned mega-dam just downstream would have flooded a region larger than Toronto, raised the water levels by 50 metres, and affected countless communities downstream. Opposition to the dam, which would have exported an estimated 90% of its electricity to China, was so widespread that the government suspended the project. Such divisive megaprojects fuel armed conflict in Kachin State and elsewhere in Burma.
In addition to housing and modest food rations, Janmai and Mai Na camps provide Internally Displaced Peoples relative safety from the Burma Army. They are close to Myitkyina, the capital city of Kachin State, which offers them both some protection as well as access to employment and schooling. Other, more remote camps have been attacked and bombed by the Burma Army as recently as 2016.
Much of Kutupalong, which sprawls for kilometres, has been stripped of its mature trees, and the shelters are not sturdily constructed – making residents vulnerable to heavy winds and mudslides.
Community services offered by our Malaysian partners include learning centres, as refugees are not recognized by the Malaysian government and children thus cannot access state-run schools. Life is precarious in Malaysia for people from Burma, who can earn more here than back home, but in exploitative jobs. Constant fear of discovery and deportation keeps many other refugees indoors, isolated, and depressed.
Through community mobilizing, research, publication, and advocacy, Kachin Development Networking Group focuses on human rights abuses and environmental damage linked to natural resource megaprojects.