Accessibility links

Refugees Returning to Burma, Many Fearful

Refugees are continuing to return to Burma from China, after about 30,000 Burmese nationals fled across the border in recent days to escape fighting between government troops and a local militia. Media reports say many refugees at Chinese government shelters have left, but others say they have not yet decided when to go back. Some Burmese nationals on the Chinese side of the border say they feel it is not yet safe enough to return.

Mr. Deng has been in Nansan, China, for about 10 days. He left behind his family, including four brothers, to plant corn and bamboo in the northeastern Burmese hills. Most recently, he worked as a laborer in Lao Gai, the capital of Kokang region.

He fled the fighting between Burmese government troops and the local Kokang militia.

Deng says it was not army fighting army. Instead, he accuses the Burmese military of indiscriminately shooting Han Chinese people.

Deng is an ethnic Kokang, a Burmese minority group that is Han Chinese and speaks Chinese. He says this shared ancestry is part of the glue that binds people on both sides of the border. He does not understand Burmese.

Despite reports of other people returning to Burma, Deng says he will return when the situation back home is stable.

He says he does not know when the situation will improve, but he wants to first see the border crossing normalized and a steady flow of people in both directions.

Ms. Dao sells noodles in one of Nansan's main marketplaces. It was quiet Tuesday, but she said there were so many refugees there on Sunday and Monday that she sold out of food.

She says there are at least two reasons people may not want to return right away.

Dao says women are afraid of being raped if they go back, while men are afraid of being forced to join the military.

Mr. Zhao is a Burmese refugee who has been in Nansan for about four days. Before that, he was busy fighting with the Kokang militia. He says this is the worst fighting he has seen since he signed up eight years ago. He fled when his side lost.

His wife and 10-month-old son are with him. He still misses his home, though.

Zhao says at home, everything is much better. Here in China, they have nothing.

He says it is really hard for refugees like him to make a life in China. They cannot work because they do not have Chinese identity cards, so it is hard for them to make money to get enough to eat.

Zhao said he does not know when he and his family will go back, but he also does not know how much longer he can afford to stay.

Like Deng, he rents a private room, and says his family is at least living in better conditions than the refugees at the government settlement shelters. Hard rain a few days ago left the shelters muddy and the blankets wet. But he adds wistfully, at least they had more to eat.

Chinese officials dismantled at least some of the camps that had housed the refugees. Government officials also told foreign journalists to leave the border area.

Regional political analysts say Burma has attacked ethnic militias to gain control of minority-held areas before next year's election. Burma's military government plans to allow the first election in 20 years, but the country's new constitution still gives the army significant control over the country.

Burmese officials have said the fighting along the China border broke out as the army tried to crack down on the drug trade in the area.