Min Tun – A mosquito net is usually an accessory to protect sleepers from mosquito bites and other insects. In a camp for internally displaced persons in the state capital Srawe in Arakan, however, it’s more than just that.
Every day around noon, four or five people can be seen in one of these nets, hanging over them like an oversized wedding cloth. But this is not a wedding, nor do the enveloped sleep.
It is lunch time for these internally displaced people who prefer to have their meals without the company of the flies which will surely be a nuisance to them if given the opportunity.
Their camp is located on the grounds of the Maha Zeya Theikdi Pahtan monastery, only 10 minutes by car from the seat of government in Sittwe, where the prime minister and his cabinet work.
One day, 38-year-old U Kyaw Win Hlaing, father of three, is having lunch with his family under the mosquito net in the IDP camp.
For him, the flies are more than just a nuisance; He says they are part of the unsanitary conditions in the camp, which he blames for his daughter’s health problems.
The mosquito net prevents the flies from landing on the food that gets into his family’s stomach, he said.
“Flies are brought out of the dump. Many flies come when we have something to eat. So we have to have lunch in the mosquito nets, ”he explained.
More than 50 people from the townships of Kyauktaw, Rathedaung and Paletwa seek refuge in the Maha Zeya Theikdi Pahtan monastery.
U Kyaw Win Hlaing arrived at the monastery with his wife and children in February. They are from Pyaing Taing Village, Kyauktaw Township, and after about six months in the camp, their 3-year-old daughter developed diarrhea.
U Kyaw Win Hlaing believes that his daughter suffered from the disease because the flies came from the garbage dump, the stench of which is from the monastery. His daughter is better now, but even in recovery she has to go to Sittwe General Hospital once a week for more medication.
According to U Kyaw Win Hlaing, internally displaced people in the camp, both children and adults, often suffer from diarrhea. Many need financial support to be able to afford a trip to the local health clinic.
“We are refugees and have no money because we cannot work. When we go to a clinic on the ward, we need money. We want people to provide money for our medical expenses, ”he said.
If the flies and the stink from the dump weren’t enough, another smell also challenges the resilience of internally displaced people: the foul smell emitted from an active crematorium in the nearby cemetery.
Buddhist monk Ashin Kaw Wi Da, who runs the camp, said some internally displaced people had moved to other places because they couldn’t stand the stench and flies. However, dozens are taking on these challenges with repurposed mosquito nets and other adjustments that are supposed to make their lives a little easier in scratches.
Many of those left behind in the monastery are impoverished or families worried about the hassle of moving to another IDP settlement with children in tow, the monk added.
U Kyaw Win Hlaing says his family cannot move. His second daughter is less than 3 years old and their youngest, a young boy, is only 8 months old.
“If we move to another place, we need food and clothes. My children are too young and have a hard time moving from one place to another, ”he said.
Internally displaced persons such as U Kyaw Win Hlaing and his family have been evicted from their homes for a variety of conflict-related reasons, including nearby clashes, the landing of artillery shells in villages, or the flaring of houses.
The Rakhine Ethnics Congress has estimated the number of internally displaced people in Arakan state to be around 200,000. Hostilities between the Tatmadaw and Arakan armies, which began in December 2018, have increased in the months since then, adding tens of thousands to the ranks of the displaced.
Internally displaced persons often face difficulties in obtaining adequate shelter and food or access to health care and education.
The internally displaced people at Maha Zeya Theikdi Pahtan monastery in Sittwe have so far been fortunate not to have to worry about empty stomachs as the monastery provides them with food.
Adequate health care was lacking for the internally displaced people at the monastery, but the local health department recently announced that health services would be provided at the camp once a week starting this month.
This is an improvement, but as U Kyaw Win Hlaing would no doubt like to point out, the flies and stings remain. At the moment it is dining for him and his family outdoors and under a mosquito net.
Places like Maha Zeya Theikdi Pahtan Monastery are a temporary refuge, and this notion of impermanence can persist in daily adversity.
But here and in many internally displaced persons camps across Arakan state, it is the status of a conflict, with no end in sight, that will determine when they will return to their homes.
“I want the war to be stopped,” said U Kyaw Win Hlaing. “But I cannot ask for it because the war has intensified and my wish alone cannot end it.”