Displaced Meiktila Muslims stuck between floods and legacy of violence
EARLY this month, a group of Muslim families from Mandalay Region’s Meiktila township tried unsuccessfully to return home for the first time since 2013, when widespread communal violence left more than 40 dead and 12,000 displaced.
Heavy rains had flooded their temporary housing. Water was up to their knees. Living conditions were unbearable. So on October 1, they gathered their belongings and returned to their old neighbourhood, only to face a lessthan-neighbourly reception.
A few days earlier, on September 29, the displaced residents met at the township administration office to discuss their desire to return but officials said they could offer no guarantees, according to U Min Thu from Wun Zin ward, who attended the meeting.
And when they arrived at their old homes, they were barred from returning by the ward’s remaining residents, who told them they needed official permission for the homecoming.
“We cannot live here any longer because there are many difficulties at this temporary living place,” Mingalar Zay Yone ward resident Daw San San Tint said on October 7. “When it rained heavily, water entered the houses so it caused an inconvenience for living, cooking and sleeping at night. We have to live together in a small room with other families.”
Administrative officials have not provided security for the displaced, she said.
“No one can guarantee our safety,” she said. “Aside from the security issues, there are no problems and the situation is peaceful. The monks are also looking after us.”
The violence in 2013 was sparked by a March 19 argument between a Buddhist and a Muslim at a gold shop owned by the latter. Accounts of that incident and of the escalation in violence between Buddhists and Muslims vary, but widespread rioting and the burning of hundreds of homes left thousands – mostly Muslims – displaced by March 23, when a military deployment had largely stabilised the situation.
According to Chan Aye Thar Yar ward’s administration office, about 250 displaced households have since been living in temporary houses in the ward. “We have allowed about 150 displaced families from Kan Taw Min, Wun Zin, Yan Myo Aung, and Mingalar Zay Yone wards to live temporarily in terraced houses,” Chan Aye Thar Yar ward administrator U San Tun told The Myanmar Times on October 7. “They want to move back to their original ward because the temporary houses have been flooding with knee-high water.”
The Myanmar Times attempted to reach Meiktila township administrator U Thet Naing over the course of two days to ask about the displaced residents’ situation, but he did not respond.
“Our wards are now places of peace and tranquillity,” U Min Thu told The Myanmar Times on October 8. “But authorities have not managed to resettle us in our original homes and have not made a firm decision about it.”
“We did not set fire to our own houses. We left our houses for a reason. It is the regional government’s duty to help us to settle back in our original homes. We are not squatters so why do they not allow us to return?”
According to Immigration Office figures, there are 272,239 Buddhists, 13,321 Muslims, 1074 Christians and 795 Hindus in Meiktila township.
A temporary house in Meiktila township is flooded with rainwater.