IDP advocate: ‘When troops visit, all people in the camp are scared’

As conflict continues to plague Arakan State, military inspections of camps for internally displaced people (IDPs) have reportedly increased in recent months, raising anxieties in the camps. DMG interviewed U Wai Hla Aung, manager of Tin Nyo IDP camp in Mrauk-U Township, where more than 3,000 people are sheltering.

19 Aug 2020


Question: What do you want to say about the Tatmadaw checks at IDP camps? 

Answer: They are doing it in the line of duty. However, we have a problem: When troops visit a village or an IDP camp, all people in the camp — men, women and children — are scared. The IDPs have been displaced from their homes because they are afraid of being arrested unlawfully, or their villages were destroyed. Almost all people fled from their homes in Lekka and Auk Thar Kan villages. They have experienced the worst of situations, so they dare not stay in the camp when a military column is coming. In March, a military contingent opened fire on the Tin Nyo hospital and an IDP camp. Therefore, villagers are filled with fear of soldiers. They cannot overcome it and they run from the camp when they see a military column entering the camp. 

So, they [the Tatmadaw] asked me why the number of people in the camp is not the same as the number on the list. If they visit the camp 100 times, the situation will be the same. The number of people in the camp is not the same as mentioned on the list because people from the camp and villages run away when they hear troops are coming to check. 

Q: How many times has the Tatmadaw inspected the Tin Nyo IDP camp and how does the process of checking the camp play out? 

A: They’ve visited two times. For the first time, they did not ‘check’ the camp. They came and observed the conditions at the camp. When they visited the second time, they asked to provide the exact number of households and checked all people against the list.

I think they are checking whether members of the Arakan Army are staying in the camp. They told me if they found that the number of people in the camp is different from the list, they will submit it to the government. As I said earlier, the number of people in the camp will never match the list when an armed group comes and checks. 

Q: What did the camp committee do on behalf of the IDPs during the Tatmadaw check? 

A: To be frank, I cannot assure myself when a military contingent visits the camp. Even the Union government cannot assure the lives and prosperity of the people, so as a manager of the camp, I cannot assure the IDPs. When they fled from the camp in fear, I couldn’t manage to stop them. So, I have to show the people by staying in the camp. 

Q: What do you want to say to authorities about the checks at the camp? 

A: The IDPs are sheltering at the camp after facing a lot of hardships. Their villages were set on fire. They have experienced gunfire. They have lost all of their property. They do not want to stay at the camp but, as a last resort, they have to take shelter at the camp because they cannot solve the problems of their daily living. They took refuge here for their safety. If they [are endangered] at the camp, they might feel there is no place for them to take refuge. 

Q: What did you say when the Tatmadaw asked you about the difference between the number of people on the list versus at the camp? 

A: I told the Tatmadaw that they fled from the camp in fear. The Tatmadaw asked me why they are scared. Additionally, the Tatmadaw said if they were not guilty they needn’t fear or flee from the camp. Authorities implied that IDPs fled from the camp as they were guilty. 

The Tatmadaw needs to think again about whether they didn’t make any trouble for civilians. Civilians who did nothing wrong have been arrested under suspicion, or abducted to serve as guides, or tortured. Because of these situations, villagers and IDPs fear being arrested and tortured even if they’ve done nothing wrong. 

Q: What more do you want to say? 

A: I want the government to have sympathy for us. We [the IDP committee] are working as a manager of the IDP camp of our own volition, although it is not our responsibility. The government is responsible for the IDPs and protecting the people. The government should urge or put pressure on the Tatmadaw troops not to do checks on IDP people who are feeling that they are not safe.