Medics Struggling to Cope with Numbers of Displaced in Kachin Conflict

Medics working with civilians displaced by fighting in Kachin State are struggling to cope because of a lack of resources – community based organizations warn of a potential health crisis.

Information provided to Karen News by the Kachin Women’s Association Thailand, allege that health workers are struggling to cope with the thousands of people displaced by conflict.

“Every month we have about 1,200 patients, but there are only 10 of us in three basic clinics. We practically work 24 hours a day. We can’t get any rest especially at clinics in the camps… whenever patients come or we hear of a health emergency, we have to work.”

One female medic, 37, said on the condition of anonymity over concerns for her safety. “Emergency delivery cases can occur at any time and we have to look after these mothers. In some especially serious cases we have to transfer them to hospitals but this is expensive for the patients, and, as IDPs, they have no money,” she added.

The Kachin conflict started with a Burma Army offensive on June 9, 2011, breaking a 17-year ceasefire between the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) and its armed wing the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), and the Burmese government. The UNHCR estimates that more than 100,000 civilians are currently displaced in Kachin State, including in territory held by government forces. KWAT figures supplied to Karen News report that 78,225 civilians were displaced by the conflict and were living in 67 camps in KIO controlled territory.

A Kachin medic, on the condition of anonymity said that a lack of supplies and medical resources was putting lives of civilians at risk.

“The most difficult thing about the current situation in the camps is that we lack [clean] water, we lack medicine, and we do not have the appropriate instruments for deliveries, oxygen bottles, and proper facilities… the IDPs we work with lack primary health care knowledge.”

The medics work at clinics in Loi Je and Lana Zupja camps, which together house 4,200 IDPs, according to KWAT figures. The second medic said that they frequently had to make visits to treat people in nearby IDP camps, or in refugee camps inside China, but that this was a concern for their security.

“We often need to travel to other nearby camps for health emergencies and general health care campaigns but it is dangerous because Chinese police sometimes take away all the medicine we bring with us when we have to cross the China border to Kachin refugees there. Sometimes they might arrest us and take our motorbikes. Also, it is very difficult to travel in the rainy season because there are floods and earth slides,” she said.

Jessica Nkhum, from KWAT, said in an earlier interview with Karen News that the camps are not prepared to deal with health needs of thousands of displaced people.

“People in the camps are frightened and some are dying because of the lack of healthcare. If people from the West saw what these people endure they would be shocked.”

KWAT is a community-based organization that works with Kachin communities, including displaced civilians.

Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, a South East Asia based human rights watchdog, said that the conditions for IDPs were worsening.

“The displaced are going into the fourth consecutive cold season living under difficult conditions and the more remote camps still lack adequate provisions, including medications and health care,” he said in an interview last month with Karen News.

A report by Fortify Rights documented 78 first hand accounts of the government committing “war crimes” in Kachin State, including the torture and abuse of civilians by the Burma Army, Military Intelligence and the Police, from June 2011 to April of this year.

Some of those interviewed reported being beaten with bamboo sticks, metal rods and rifles. In one case, a man was shot in the head during an escape attempt, though he survived.

Mr. Smith accused the government of continuing to perpetrate war crimes in Kachin State.

“There’s been no accountability for abuses by the Tatmadaw against civilians and a variety of abuses we’ve documented would amount to war crimes. Abuses are ongoing.” Mr. Smith said at the time, referring to a term for the Burmese Army.

A report by Human Rights Watch in 2012 accused both the KIA and the Burma Army of committing human rights abuses. The HRW report found evidence that the KIA used child soldiers, and found that the Burma Army were committing extrajudicial killings, sexual violence and rape, forced labour and looting.

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