September 19, 2016

I Would Be Happy, If I Could Get Enough Rice’: Mon IDP Report Interview #3

InvisibleLives-interviews-templateThe following interview was conducted as part of the research for the joint report “Invisible Lives: The Untold Story of Displacement Cycle in Burma” by Human Rights Foundation of Monland (HURFOM), Burma Link, and Burma Partnership, which was launched in a press conference in Rangoon on August 12th and in Moulmein on August 15th. The 65-page report focuses on the continuing concerns of the displaced ethnic nationality communities, particularly the ethnic Mon, living along Burma’s southeast border and finds that the recent reforms have not yet addressed the causes of their displacement.


Download the full report (PDF) in English

Donwload the full report (PDF) in Burmese

While Burma Partnership led the preliminary needs assessment and design for this research, Burma Link conducted all the interviews and focus group discussions (FGDs) for this report in partnership with HURFOM, facilitated by Mon Relief and Development Committee (MRDC) and other local CBOs. The interviews and FGDs were conducted in four different IDP (internally displaced person) sites, Halockhani, Baleh Done Phaik, Chedeik, and Jo Haprao, in the NMSP (New Mon State Party) controlled ceasefire areas, as well as with farmers and villagers in and around Ye Township in government controlled areas of southeast Burma. Some interviewees in the government-controlled areas came from Yebyu Township in Tenasserim Region. Mon CSOs and political parties as well as the NMSP and NMSP-linked service providers were interviewed in Ye and in Moulmein in southeast Burma and in Sangkhlaburi in Thailand. One interview with a Mon CSO and one interview with an INGO were conducted via Skype. A total of 29 interviews and 5 FGDs were conducted in southeast Burma and along the border, in total with 60 interviewees. The research was conducted through qualitative interviews with open-ended questions, with the objective of understanding the feelings, perspectives and outlook of the interviewees who were encouraged to share any additional concerns and issues that they wanted to voice. All interviewees made an informed decision to take part and utmost care was taken to protect their identity – particularly the IDPs and villagers – who took part in this research, to ensure they are protected from possible direct threats and intimidation as a result of the interviews. See full methodology in the report.

The following interview is the third one in a series that HURFOM, Burma Link, and Burma Partnership will be publishing in the coming weeks. This interview series is meant to give more in depth understanding into the situation of Mon IDPs and villagers. This interview is an edited version of the original and some information has been omitted to protect the identity of the interviewee. The interviewee gave an informed consent for publishing his interview as part of this series.

Background of the Interviewee
Location: Baleh Done Phaik IDP site in the NMSP controlled ceasefire zone
Age: Over 50 years
Gender: Female

Ethnicity and religion: Mon Buddhist

The interviewee is a Mon Buddhist female who was interviewed by Burma Link in Baleh Done Phaik IDP site in February 2016. This refugee-turned-IDP originally fled human rights violations such as beatings, forced labour and forced portering committed by the Burma Army in the Mon State. She first lived in different locations in Thailand, being forced to move from one location to another, until finally being forced to repatriate to the New Mon State Party (NMSP) controlled IDP site Baleh Done Phaik. The site had been attacked and burned down by the Burma Army only one year before, leaving her and others in fear of further attacks. The NSMP continues to provide security for the IDPs, but decreasing aid and meager job opportunities have forced this IDP and mother her to take out loans for her food. She hopes that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s government can bring jobs to her and others struggling to survive in the remote IDP areas.

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Q: How long have you lived here?

A: 21 years.

Q: Why did you come to this place?

A: Before I lived in Ba Phyu and then the Thai authorities forced us to move here. Before I arrived here I lived in many places.

[…] I lived like in a small camp around Sangklaburi and it was a Thai territory so the Thai government, authorities, forced to move the village again and again. Then I moved to Ba Phyu village and then the Thai authorities forced [to move] again so I moved here. After the Burmese soldiers came I arrived here.

Q: What was the first place that you went to live in Thailand?

A: The first one was Daik Dein village, it was a Mon village, a very small one.

Q: Were you forced to move from that village?

A: Yes. Thai government, authorities, forced us to move the village again and again. Then I

moved to Ba Phyu village and then the Thai authorities forced us to move again so I moved here.

Q: Do you know why the Thai authorities forced you to move?

A: I don’t know but I think the Thai thought that Mon people would take their land, would occupy their land. That’s what I thought.

Q: What kind of difficulties did you have to face when you moved from place to place?

A: No problem, the Thai authorities transported us by truck.

Q: How did you get the materials to rebuild your houses and for other necessities?

A: Some organisations provided us with for example 5,000 baht for one family but at that time MRDC [Mon Relief and Development Committee] provided 2,000 or 3,000 to a family. But I don’t know which organisations.

Q: Since you came here have you lived in another place or have you stayed here the whole 21 years?

A: I have been living here.

Q: Why did you leave your place of origin?

A: The Burmese soldiers forced us to leave our original place.

Q: Did the Burmese soldiers ask you to leave or did they do something that made you leave?

A: When the [Burma Army] soldiers arrived in the village, they tried to find some men. If there were no men, they tried to find women and they beat and used them as forced labour, like portering. That’s why I moved.

Q: Did that happen many times?

A: Yes, very often. Now it has calmed down.

Q: Why did you finally leave? Why didn’t you already leave earlier?

A: After I faced that situation I moved from my village. In the past there were no [Burma Army] soldiers so I wanted to stay in my village.

Q: Did the whole village move or how many people did you leave with?

A: Only 30 or 35 households in my village, at that time every household left. When it calmed down, some people had land or a farm so they moved back again. For me, I didn’t have anything so that’s why I didn’t want to go back.

Q: How old were you when you left?

A: Around 30 years ago.

Q: Have you been back to your village?

A: No, never.

Q: Would you like to go there?

A: I don’t want to live there but I want to visit and then come here again.

Q: Why haven’t you visited?

A: No money.

Q: Can you describe what happened when you were forced to move from Ba Phyu to Baleh Done Phaik?

A: We hired a truck and moved from Ba Phyu to here. Only my family was in one truck and other people they combined two, three families and they came in one truck. Like that.

Q: Was anyone living here when you arrived here?            

A: At that time only five households and one monastery. We always went [around] with the monks. I didn’t have to move to another place, I just stayed here for 21 years, I didn’t have to move to another place.

Q: Do you want to stay here?

A: I have nowhere else to go.

Q: Did you face any difficulties after you coming to live here?

A: No other problems, only for food, for work.

Q: Did you get any help, any aid?

A: Only from MRDC, they gave aid.

[…] Once a year. Last year Nippon foundation provided rice.

Q: Did you know about the Burma Army attack that happened in 1994 before you arrived here?

A: Yes, I heard it from other people.

Q: How did you feel about moving here when you knew that had happened before?

A: I was afraid. After that time the [Burma Army] soldiers never came again but six or seven years ago they arrived one time. They didn’t make any problem.

Q: And did you have any kind of security to protect yourselves?

A: We believed that [if something happened] the NMSP [New Mon State Party] would take us to Halockhani, quite close to Thailand, and to Thai territory.

Q: Why did you choose to stay here despite the security threat?

A: I knew the Burmese soldiers burnt the village, but the New Mon State Party restored and rebuilt the village, and that’s why many households moved here.

Q: Have you ever thought about going to Ban Don Yang refugee camp to live there?

A: They didn’t allow us to stay there.

Q: Did you try to go there?

A: I didn’t try but some Karen people from another village told me that they didn’t want Mon people to live in Karen area.

Q: Have you noticed anything change in Baleh Done Phaik during the last year?

A: No change.

Q: How do you and your family make a living?

A: I haven’t been able to work since two years ago. Some people went to pick grass for brooms. Then somebody picked the broom grass and it was not dry and then I dried it.

[…] I don’t go because I cannot walk very well. […] … and then sometimes I make thatch [for roof]. People go into the forest and get that thatch and I make the thatch.

Q: The income that you make, is it consistent and enough for your family?

A: No, not enough. For making thatches, for one thatch I get 3 baht and for plucking broom grass, for 1kg I get 3 baht.

Q: When you say it’s not enough, for your daily needs, how do you manage?

A: I have to borrow from others and pay loans.

If I borrow one thousand I have to pay 10 baht for the loan. 10 baht for one thousand. Sometimes my … children in Thailand send a little bit of money to me.

Q: Are you in debt now?

A: Yes, about 5,000 [Thai baht].

Q: Do you rely on aid, do you get aid?

A: I get it from MRDC … once a year.

[And] only last year, from Japan. Last year from Nippon, last year and this year in January.

Q: Has the aid changed or has it stayed the same?

A: In the past we got one sack of rice for one person and now only 32 kg rice from Nippon and 15 kg rice from MRDC.

Q: Do you remember when it started decreasing?

A: Three years ago.

Q: And three years ago was it enough for you?

A: Yes, it was enough. In the past we got like mats, blankets and mosquito nets, also rice [from MRDC].

Q: Have you faced any situation here where you felt like there was a risk of physical or mental harm?

A: No.

Q: Have you ever felt afraid or unsafe here?

A: No, there’s a security man in the village.

Q: The security, is it villagers themselves?

A: [NMSP/MNLA] soldiers.

Q: Have you or anyone here ever faced any abuse, threats or had any concerns about any armed groups here?

A: No, except for food.

Q: Can you explain what you mean for food?

A: I have to worry only for food, not other problems.

Q: Have any armed group in any way threatened your livelihood or food situation here?

A: No.

Q: Do you know of any development projects in this area?

A: No, nothing.

Q: Do you know of any development projects in Mon State?

A: I didn’t hear of anything.

Q: What are your views, how do you feel about the elections?

A: I know some people talked about it but I didn’t vote. No one voted in this area, only the people in Three Pagoda Pass, they voted. Some people told me that only people who have ID can vote. That’s why I didn’t vote, I have no ID.

Q: Why don’t you have ID?

A: I never had ID card, also my parents didn’t have ID card. Now I’m quite old so no need.

Q: You said that you heard something about the elections. How do you feel about it?

A: I cannot decide whether it’s good or bad because I don’t know [laughter].

Q: What is your biggest hope from the new government?

A: I just hope that the new government gives us some jobs. Now there are no more jobs. I only hope for jobs from the new government.

Q: Did anyone ever come here to Baleh Done Phaik to explain about the peace process and the current situation?

A: NMSP came. Only last year.

Q: Did you go to the meeting?

A: Yes, I went. The NMSP came and talked about the current situation, the political situation. I only know the politicians, but what is politics I don’t know.

Q: Did you understand what they were talking about?

A: I understood only for a very short time and then I don’t remember. I’m not good at memorising [laughter].

Q: And when they had the meeting, did they also invite the villagers to speak and listen to their opinions?

A: The villagers had the right to ask questions and give suggestions.

Q: Did you notice if many women also asked or gave suggestions?

A: Yes. A women organisation asked questions and gave suggestions at that time.

Q: Did you feel like the MNSP and the men listened to the women as much as to the men?

A: They listened, they didn’t separate whether [the speaker was] man or woman.

Q: How do you feel about your future and what do you want from your future?

A: I don’t want to go back to my origin, I only want to live here and I don’t want to have debt. I will live here until I die, for my whole life.

Q: If you had a chance, would you go to live in another place?

A: I don’t want to go anywhere, I used to visit other villages but I’m just happy here. In other villages I’m not happy.

Q: Is there anything else that you would like to share with us?

A: Nothing else but if you can support for food I would be happy, if I could get enough rice.

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Download the full report (PDF) in English

Download the full report (PDF) in Burmese

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