Returning Refugees Find Life In Model Village Challenging

“It’s not easy to live here and I don’t know whether it will improve in the future,” said one resident.

By Network Media Group
Thursday, May 23, 2019

After enduring years of displacement from the conflict between armed groups and the Burmese Army, villagers that moved to Lay Kay Kaw are finding it difficult to survive. With little full-time employment available, many that resettled are working as day labourers in the nearby Myawaddy, eking out a basic livelihood.

Ma Ah Nge, who moved from the Thai Umpiem refugee camp, told NMG she finds living in Lay Kay Kaw challenging.

“It’s not easy to live here and I don’t know whether it will improve in the future. Now, I’m employed as a daily worker on corn and pea farms. I send my son to school and have to pay for his education. If we don’t have regular work it will be a problem.”

Refugees from Thai camps, Umpiem, Nu Po, Mae La and displaced villagers living in Myanmar were invited by the Karen National Union (KNU) to move to the new village. Migrant workers from Phokpra and Mae Sot in Thailand have also taken up residence.

The newcomers, most of who are Karen, live in modest row homes built on 40’x60′ plots. They have access to water, electricity. Some education and healthcare services are available in the village.

Lay Kay Kaw is managed by the KNU that paid for the construction of homes with funding provided by the Japanese Nippon Foundation.

Daw Cherry Tun, who moved from Umpiem refugee camp, said her husband has to cross the Thai border to work in Mae Sot because the family can’t find regular employment in Burma. The money he makes isn’t enough and the family is supplementing their income with funds they were given to resettle to Lay Kay Kaw.

According to officials estimates, over 3,000, or 786 families, are living in the model village that was built after the KNU signed a ceasefire, ostensibly to end seven-decades of fighting with the Burmese Army.

Clashes between the KNU and the Army are still happening in some areas of Karen State.

Saw Aung Min, who moved from a refugee camp in Thailand, said after arriving he received livestock and seeds to plant vegetables. He’s only been able to find short term employment and worried about his future.

Saw Htay Myint Aung, secretary of Lay Kay Kaw town construction and management committee, said newcomers were told they would face challenges before they arrived.

Priority was given to the construction of homes, he said, and “the second step is creating job opportunities.” For this to happen, he said, they need investment. If a factory is built nearby it will provide employment for residents, Htay Myint Aung said, but didn’t specify if Nippon Foundation plans to give more funding for creating job incentives in the area.

Another way to stimulate the local economy is by developing the tourism sector, Htay Myint Aung said. Now that the civil war has ended, visitors will be attracted to the natural scenery in Karen State, he said.