‘It’s Not Like Before, Now We Don’t Have the Medicine, Not Enough for Us’: Mon IDP Report Interview #2

September 12, 2016

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

Download 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 second 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. The interviewee gave an informed consent for publishing his interview as part of this series.

Background of the Interviewee
Location: Sangkhlaburi, Kanchanaburi Province, Thailand
Organisation: Mon National Health Committee (MNHC)

The interviewee is a staff member of the Mon National Health Committee (MNHC), the health department of the New Mon State Party (NMSP), the main ethnic armed resistance organisation in Mon areas since the 1950s. The MNHC was founded in 1992 to serve communities along the Thailand-Burma border, bringing primary health care to internally displaced persons (IDPs) living along the border in NMSP controlled areas. The MNHC operates 19 clinics and 21 mobile clinics, and has more than 100 medics who provide health care to more than 10,000 patients annually. The MNHC also works in collaboration with other ethnic health organisations (EHOs) as well as the Back Pack Health Worker Team (BPHWT) to bring health services to some of Burma’s most vulnerable people. For the ethnic border-based service providers such as the MNHC, a major current challenge is that the international community has shifted their funds away from the border and towards the central government.


BL: What is the MNHC’s focus of work at the moment?

Now we focus on primary health care. We need to see all of the community living a healthy life. Now we are trying how to work with the government for health services and for vaccinations.


BL: Can you describe the cooperation with the government?

Sometimes the government will get some funds from a donor, like IOM [International Organisation for Migration], and then they contact our organisation and we work with IOM and like UNICEF and like that.


BL: How is the health situation now in the Mon IDP areas?

Now our organisation, we need to get vaccinations to the communities. This is very important for our community but this is very, very expensive. Now we don’t find a donor. Now this year we started to work with UNICEF just only for polio (vaccination).

It’s not like before, now we don’t have the medicine, not enough for us. It’s not the same like before, we had many, many, donors. And now we don’t have donors who give money or medicine. This is not enough for us. Now we have a problem.


BL: How does that affect the IDPs?

This affects the IDPs because if the patient comes to the clinic and if they don’t have what they need, and we know the diagnosis but sometimes we don’t have the medicine. We have to tell them and they can buy it from the shop. But they don’t have much money, so this is a very big problem. They have a problem too, when we don’t have medicine.


BL: So can they only get medicine when they have the money to buy it?

Some people they have and some don’t have. This is a problem.


BL: Is there medicine in the clinics?

Not enough. Sometimes we only have, like now we only have one donor. We have 19 clinics and when we divide the medicine; just only little, little, little medicine. It’s not enough. For one year when we plan to buy medicine and we can calculate how many patients in one year and in a month. This is not enough for medicine.


BL: Why do you think the donors have reduced the support?

This is, the process has changed because now our donors … now they will work inside Burma. They [the donors] will give money inside Burma. Before 2011 or 2012, we got aid directly. If we don’t work inside Burma [in government controlled areas], they will cut funding.


BL: Why do you think they have reduced support across the border?

I think maybe they need to work with the government. But sometimes we need to work with the government too.

In some areas we don’t need the government, the government staff can’t go, it’s a black area [NMSP controlled]. We have to keep our area, right?



BL: How do you think about the peace process right now?

It’s not exactly changed from before. [It’s proceeding] very, very slowly, because now Aung San Suu Kyi will talk with Min Aung Hlaing and we need to know, our ethnic groups need to know what they say, what they are talking about. We have to think for the future and now we don’t know anything about what she has talked with the government and with the military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing. If we know about that then we can plan.


BL: Do you feel like they are not open about their talks?

It’s like they are talking in secret. They are not sharing what they are saying and what they are talking about. We need to know that, right?


BL: Has the peace process, and the NCA [Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement] and the UPC [Union Peace Conference held in January 2016], presented any new challenges to your work?

Now the situation is, we don’t have challenges [due to those] now because it depends on the talks between the UNFC [United Nationalities Federal Council] and the government, and how it will change for the future. Now we don’t have [new] challenges, because we are still like before.

BL: So has it changed anything for you? No.


BL: Do you think the NCA and the UPC are addressing the issues that IDPs face?

Some ethnic groups they signed the NCA. Some ethnic groups they can sign now. I think for the IDPs it [situation] is still the same like before, it’s not changed. I’ve never seen any changes.


BL: What do you think; is ceasefire enough for refugees and IDPs to return in safety and dignity?

… I think now the peace process hasn’t changed [anything], it’s going very, very slowly. The government; what they say now we don’t know about the information now. This is where the government needs to be transparent. Like accountability, responsibility for the IDPs, where to return, where to stay. This depends on every ethnic group; their leaders, what they are thinking about for their community.


BL: If you think about Mon IDPs and refugees who might return to Mon areas; What conditions do they need for them to feel like it’s safe and they have hope?

I think everyone needs a place to live and a house. When they will return to their villages they don’t have houses and many, many are… Now everyone says, I hear, they are very unconfident [to return] because they would have to stay with other people. When they return they’ll have nothing. So they never return to their villages.


BL: Does the MNHC have any consultations with the NMSP about the NCA or about IDPs returning?

MNHC is a department of the NMSP. We have to listen to their orders. Sometimes when we work with the government, we have to present [plans] to the NMSP and they will make the decisions, not the MNHC.


BL: Do they consult the MNHC?

Yes. When we have a meeting they will talk about how we will do in the future for MNHC and then when the situation will change, how we will work with the government, and then how we’ll make a policy for health.


BL: Do you know what NMSP’s or other ethnic armed organisations’ policy is about IDPs or refugees returning?

No, I don’t know.



BL: Do you know if the number of IDPs has increased since 2011?

Now it hasn’t much increased. Because like someone from Halockhani they have their place and their farm, planting like rubber and betel nut, and they will call some of their father or someone form their village to plant the rubber, and they have… Some people like migrants still come. I haven’t seen the number increasing.


BL: Do you know if any IDPs have returned or gone to another place in Burma?

Yeah, some men don’t have a job or anything and they will go Thailand and work there. But to return, I’ve never seen that.


BL: Why do you think they are not returning?

Now around the IDPs it’s very… Now their mother and their father, they don’t want to return to the government [controlled area] and they have moved to other places. When their sons and daughters were born in this area, they don’t want to go anywhere. […]


BL: What do you think is the main reason?

The main reason is that they have farms. […]

Now it’s little changed around the border, their knowledge has changed. Before they got aid from the donors, the medicine. Now their minds are changing. ‘If you don’t work you don’t have money.’ So they try to work and they will get money, find money. Some villages only have a clinic and they cannot buy medicine. They have to go to Ye and buy from there. […]


BL: Are there any development projects that are affecting the IDPs in NMSP areas?

Before it was better than now for development, with projects from the donors. And now the donors have stopped supporting cross border. And they give aid inside Burma [government controlled areas]. If we work with the donors from inside Burma, then we have to work with the government. If government will allow to work in this area, then they can work. For development it’s a little… slow for our IDPs.



BL: What do you think are some of the major challenges that the IDPs are facing now?

The biggest challenges are about health, like vaccinations are very important, but the community don’t know what are vaccinations and that they are very important. This is a big challenge for us.


BL: Do you know what are the biggest challenges for the IDPs from their own viewpoint?

[…] They just think for one day, ‘have to find money’ they just only think like that.

Mostly they will worry that the government and NMSP will be fighting, some people worry about that.


BL: Why do you think it’s so difficult for the IDPs to have adequate livelihood?

I think, they don’t have jobs. Many, many people around the border they don’t have jobs, because when they have to work for some families, [they have work for] only one or two days and then get like 10,000 Kyat [about 8 USD]. And then they don’t have a job for another 10 days. So how can we stay for ten days with 10,000 Kyat? It’s not enough. They don’t have a job for like one month, they have no income. They have a job for like one or two days, they get 10,000 income, and then they don’t have a job for many days. How will they find another job? This is very important, very difficult for them.


BL: Why is it inconsistent?

Now when they have a farm, like rubber, in the rainy season they can cut the rubber but for the betel nut, it’s only between the rainy seasons and when the rainy season is finished the betel nut will come.

There are many reasons [why it’s inconsistent]. Where they find the money is very important.



BL: If you could give a recommendation to the international community, for example the donors, what would you say?

This is my opinion: We don’t need to pay and give aid to the NGOs. Give to the CBOs directly. This is very important for us. Because when they give aid to the NGOs and then we have to sub grant from the NGOs, it’s… [For example] when we have 100 persons, they will give aid meant for 100 persons to the NGO, [but] when we get it it’s for around for 60 persons. 40% we are missing. We lose it. […]

I always say this. It’s very important for us. Because when they give to 100 persons then we need to help 100 persons. If they give to NGOs and we have to sub grant, then the money is gone.


BL: Do you know where the money goes?

They have to pay their staff and for food and … Many, many NGOs will do like that. If they [donors] pay, they [should] pay directly.


BL: Would you like to give any recommendation to the NLD government?

What the community needs right now, they have to know. Around the country and around the townships, they already have enough for their lives. Around the border and around the IDP camps, they need to make an assessment and [determine] what the community will need exactly. Their exact needs. Like for education, it’s very important. And health, very important. Now around our IDP camps, it’s like nobody from the government can help them. Where do we have to find the medicine? Where do we have to go to school? The government doesn’t know. They have to do that [assessment], this is the first thing. […]

The people who are responsible is the state government. It’s their responsibility I think. They must know this. How is the community feeling? What do they need now? The state government must know.’


Download the full report (PDF) in English

Download the full report (PDF) in Burmese



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