Myanmese refugees in China keen to get back home despite warm welcome

Fearful of looting at home, some have braved continued fighting and returned to Myanmar already

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 November, 2016, 7:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 November, 2016, 11:11am

Some Myanmese refugees who have fled to the border region in Yunnan province have returned to their homes even though the fighting in the north of their country continues.

Huang Yanlin, 24, a Chinese resident of Myanmese origin who sells jade products in Ruili, Yunnan, said some of her relatives who fled to the town were worried about the situation, but still decided to return home.

They are a bit afraid that other Myanmese might loot their factories in Muse
Huang Yanlin, Chinese resident

“They went back on Wednesday because fighting became relatively calmer. They are a bit afraid that other Myanmese might loot their factories in Muse. I heard some houses in Pang Hseng have been looted,” Huang said.

The fighting between government forces and ethnic minority militias has forced 3,000 Myanmese to flee their country, seeking safety and shelter in China and causing a refugee crisis for their neighbours.

But unlike the Middle Eastern refugees pouring into Europe, most of the fleeing Myanmese share linguistic and cultural roots with their sanctuary.

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They also want to go back to the other side of the border as soon as the fighting ceases, a factor that is making the Chinese government and public particularly generous about their plight.

Asan, a 22-year-old, is among the thousands of people who have entered China since Sunday morning.

Her husband drove her and their newborn daughter on his motorcycle on Tuesday from Myanmar to a relative’s house on the Chinese side.

I hope Myanmar can develop a bit, so people don’t have to become refugees and they do not need to come to China in this way
Lu Wang, barber shop owner

Asan’s sister, who also has a young baby, crossed the border as well, and they are now living together in a shelter. They have been given a few necessities by their poor relatives in China.

The people on the Chinese side of the border have generally been sympathetic to the suffering of the refugees.

Lu Wang, 24, is a barber shop owner in Ruili, a booming town on the border for the jade and timber business. He said people like Asan were “victims of war”.

“I hope Myanmar can develop a bit, so people don’t have to become refugees and they do not need to come to China in this way,” Lu said.

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He already had a Myanmese girl working in his small shop. It is not uncommon for local Chinese to hire workers from Myanmar, although the practice is illegal without a permit.

The plight of Myanmar’s refugees has also drawn the attention of China’s grass-roots civil groups. But they have at times been frustrated by the local bureaucracy, finding that their efforts sometimes conflict with the government’s approach to the refugees.

In one case, a middle-aged man who calls himself Brother Lei organised a group of shop owners, small businessman and clerks to help the refugees.

They collected essentials like water, quilts, rice, and old and new clothes for the refugees.

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But when Brother Lei wanted to unload these supplies from a truck in Wanding near a refugee camp, the local authority stopped him, saying that his efforts might “create chaos”.

He was only allowed to unload the supplies at a government-controlled warehouse. But, knowing that Asan and her family were in need, Brother Lei refused to listen. He and other volunteers drove to where the refugees were staying and gave them supplies.