An interview with Saw Khe Lay, deputy head of the Committee of Internally Displaced Karen People (CIDKP), on the current situation of creating long-term survival for IDPs
Karen Information Center (KIC) conducted this interview with Saw Khe Lay, Deputy Head of the Committee of Internally Displaced Karen People (CIDKP), to find out what difficulties the CIDKP is facing when it comes to adhering to policies and regulations set by the international community in coordinating with international donor organizations, to provide assistance to the IDPs in Karen State, the situation in creating long-term stability for the IDPs, and CIDKP’s opinions and recommendations on the reports about Thailand’s plan to cooperate with the Myanmar’s military council in establishing a cross-border humanitarian corridor.
Q: Please tell us how the CIDKP is currently working with international organizations to provide assistance to IDPs.
A: First, we provide donors with information about the IDPs so that they understand the situation. We present their needs. At the same time, we inform them about the things that the IDPs urgently need on the ground, such as food, medical care, shelter and so on. We also inform them about the number of people who have been displaced by a battle. Then we continue to submit proposals. If there is an urgent need, we simply write a request instead of making a formal proposal. We use different formats for this. When we decide on a project, we sometimes have to submit a proposal and have to hold frequent meetings. When we talk about the international community, it can be either the American people or donors from European countries. The donations come through their governments. But they can’t send their donations directly through their governments because there are regulations there. Therefore, it is necessary to work through intermediary NGOs and INGOs.
Q: What kind of policies and regulations has the international community set regarding provision of assistance to IDPs?
A: Yes, as far as the international side is concerned, donations are provided through decisions made by the respective government authorities. For example, they want to know how their donations will benefit long and short-term needs, or benefit the people. The big donor countries in particular have these requirements. Sometimes they also impose conditions on how their donations could be used for political purposes. The aid they provide under the title of humanitarian aid is very helpful for us, for the IDPs. However, as these donations cannot come directly to us, there are a lot of regulations that require us to work with intermediaries such as NGOs and INGOs. Since the process involves transportation across the border, there are regulations for transparency and effectiveness based on the capacity of our organization. At the same time, they monitor whether or not our work is effective for the public and then support us accordingly.
Q: What do you mean by transparent regulations? Can you explain this in detail?
A: When fighting breaks out in an area, we have to collect data on the number of displaced people, specifying the number of children and adults. And then we have to submit a report to them. Once we have submitted the report, they check whether our spending matches the figures or whether we are able to achieve the objectives set. For example, if they have provided funds for food and healthcare, they check with us whether we are actually able to achieve these objectives.
Q: Please tell us what difficulties the CIDKP is facing in implementing the policies set by the (international donors) assisting the IDPs.
A: One of the difficulties is communication with the international organizations as it involves crossing the border and the other is the safety of our staff. Since our work involves crossing the border, we face all kinds of difficulties. What we urgently need is mainly food supplies. We have to talk a lot about other things, like health care, that need to be fulfilled because there are regulations for that. For our people who have lived their lives in this way, the most urgent need is food. So we have to argue for our situation. They already have aid packages for them that they can compare with other places in other countries and that may include accommodation for IDPs. But we have to explain to them that what we need most is food and that they can live under the trees for the time being if they need shelter.
It is very difficult to get accurate information from their monitoring staff about the number of displaced men and women, children and elderly people, as well as those in need of special assistance. Nevertheless, donors need this information. The amount of funds they distribute may not match the list we submit. There may be a month or two between the time we finish compiling the list of IDPs and the time we receive the donations. During this time, the number of IDPs on the list may have changed as local IDPs move from one place to another. In this case, we have to submit a letter explaining the situation. Then we give them the signatures of the individual recipients. If the beneficiaries cannot come in person for security reasons, their village leaders have to come and recommend for the person. We face these situations.
Q: According to data, there are up to 600,000 IDPs in the Kawthoolei region. Does the CIDKP have its own collected data on IDPs? How do you manage to distribute aid fairly according to the number of IDPs?
A: According to our data, the number of IDPs is currently over 752,000, some of whom have been displaced by armed clashes in Kyaukkyi Township in Nyaunglebin District. We are doing our best to provide assistance to them in cooperation with the international community. But what we can do is very limited. Over 700,000 people is a huge number. Not only do we need food, but we also need to think about their future, such as resettlement and livelihoods. We cannot even provide aid for half of these 700,000+ people. And we can’t even provide aid on a monthly basis. Sometimes we provide aid for a month and then leave them for four or five months without further help. There is still a great need.
Q: In a previous interview, you mentioned about your plan to meet with international donors and conduct a survey to implement a program to help IDPs move from just receiving aid to becoming self-sufficient. How far has this program progressed?
A: The survey is still ongoing. The CIDKP is not the only one working on it, but is also collaborating with other departments. There have been some successes in implementing the program, which is about creating livelihood opportunities for the IDPs rather than providing them with aid, in coordination with the international community. First of all, we are providing them with loans so that they can rebuild their livelihoods. There are also some agricultural and livestock programs for them, but the situation is not much promising.
These programs are also offered to one area in Kyainseikgyi Township in Brigade 6 area, one in Bilin Township in Brigade 1 area and one in Brigade 7 area. Later we will extend the offer to Brigade 5. There will be other programs, such as the civilian protection program offered by larger countries. The program for the Brigade 5 area will cover various aspects, ranging from building secret bomb shelters to protecting themselves, by making people aware of the situation of armed conflict. It will also include first aid training to enable people to provide first aid to each other if they are injured. There will also be an agricultural development program for the IDPs. We already have some programs running and are planning more.
Q: Can you tell us if the CIDKP has a timeframe for the comprehensive implementation of these livelihood projects for the IDPs across the Kawthoolei region?
A: We have projects that we have just started. And we also plan to do more in the future. How long it will take depends on the situation of the IDPs. It will take quite a while before they can stand on their own two feet. The provision of food supplies is not sustainable in the long run; we plan to think about developing the regional economy for them. The timeframe will be quite long. If the fighting continues this year, the timeframe could be extended by another four, five or even ten years.
Q: There are reports that the Thai Prime Minister’s Office is planning to work with the military junta to create a humanitarian corridor across the border. What does the CIDKP have to say about this?
A: They don’t really understand the situation on the ground. The project site is on the border. The border areas are not stable. Previously, the Thai Prime Minister had traveled to China to discuss the implementation of the project. We don’t know how they want to proceed. We have talked to some of their members of parliament about it, but we don’t know how far the matter has reached senior officials. We can’t understand how they want to cooperate with the military council in areas with heavy fighting along the border. And border areas are the only place where this is possible. In conflict areas like Bilin, Tanintharyi, Kyaukkyi, Bago, Kawkareik and Nabu, where there are IDPs, it is not possible. I don’t think that is possible. It’s out of the question. If they go ahead with the plan, they will only be accessible to the IDPs from Lay Kaw Kaw and those living along the banks of the Salween River. They make up only about 7 percent of the total IDP population. And how will they be dealt with? This is the situation. 90 percent of the IDP population are deep inside the conflict zones. So I wonder how they are going to help them. It’s completely impossible. And it is very illogical how they want to resolve the problems with the military council, which the military council itself has caused.
Q: What is your advice to the international community, including Thailand, regarding assistance programs for IDPs?
A: I would like to ask them for assistance that is compatible with our region. If the international community wants to provide assistance, as I mentioned earlier, they have certain considerations. It depends on the political situation. As far as ASEAN is concerned, they will have to work with either Thailand or the military council. I don’t think they will come and cooperate with us for the cross-border corridor. ASEAN has been talking about it for a long time, but nothing has come of it. We want international donors to have understanding of the real situation of IDPs in conflict areas and the difficulties they are going through. I want them not only to provide health care and emergency aid, but also to consider the long-term security of their livelihoods.
For IDPs, all they can do if they stay in one place for a month or two is to raise chickens or pigs or grow some crops where they dispose of leftover water. Their livelihoods can improve if we can help them with farming and livestock programs. If they can grow more crops, they can also sell the produce. That will be the start of enabling them to stand on their own two feet again. In supporting farming, I want them to work with the international community to pass on agricultural knowledge, such as how to grow two or three crops or how to carry out irrigation. By deciding to work with the military council, Thailand has taken the wrong path from the beginning. I would like to say that they should proceed with caution.
If Thailand wants to do this for five or six percent of international recognition they aim to get, I would advise them not to. They will not be able to solve the resulting problems or sustain their efforts in the long run. When fighting broke out in Shwe Kokko town, IDPs crossed the border into Thailand. Thailand set up temporary refugee camps to shelter them. But the people didn’t want to live like that, without freedom, in a confined space. They had to live in the cowsheds, without a proper space to sleep, with foul odors. Overnight, a cough spread among the refugees. Some suffered from constipation. The next day, when no more gunshots were heard, the Thai authorities forced the refugees back out. Such incidents are very inhumane and completely against any human compassion. Therefore, I ask Thailand to carefully examine the situation. Do what needs to be done and refrain from actions that will only exacerbate the problem. We don’t want Thailand’s intervention to multiply the problems of the IDPs.
Q: What else would you like to add?
A: We are trying our best for the IDPs. There are still needs that we are not yet able to fulfill. We are very grateful to the regional authorities, including the KNU. We also thank all the CIDKP staff at district and township level who are carrying out their duties at the risk of their own lives. Let us continue our work together. We will continue to talk to international organizations and donors about longer-term plans, beyond these problems.
Sent by KIC.