Even under these conditions, many of us have a strong desire to go back to our home villages. But since we do not know when we can return, and while we are facing increasing pressure to leave our IDP camps very soon, those of us who can afford it are forced to try to buy land nearby the IDP camps with our hard-earned money. But this can be done only by a few households, and some borrow money with interest to do so. IDPs buy land from the locals who are willing to sell their ancestral lands. We don’t buy land that falls within the protected forest area or that are occupied by other people. Actually, IDPs are not buying land because they have surplus money. There are many camps where the IDPs living there cannot return to their former places. For example, some of our villages of origin burned down during the fighting, so we have to find a new place to stay. But we can only buy small plots of land for housing, and it is not enough to build houses or to rebuild our livelihoods.
Some of the donors (NGOs/INGOs) and UN organizations have some misunderstanding towards us. On the one hand, we hear that they think because we can buy land, we do not face many difficulties, and that they don’t need to support us with basic food items anymore. This scenario is actually happening. We hear many misunderstandings. On the other hand, we understand there may be difficulties faced by these organizations as well.
In some camps, IDPs cannot buy land on their own. In those places, local churches or local organizations try to arrange places for them to resettle. Local communities, culture and literature associations, and faith-based organizations together explore how to arrange land plots for us. For example, for one of the IDP camps in Kutkai township, the KDA ceasefire Kachin armed group provided their forest area as living space for IDPs. It is like building a new village. We have received legal documents for this. Although IDPs can live there for generations, we cannot sell those lands. If we do not want to live there, we have to just leave the land.
Another example is in Nam Hpa Ka Zone in Kutkai Township. Here the local church has been supporting an IDP camp with around 60 households. When the IDPs presented the need for land, a number of local people donated some land to the church. The church then allocated a little more than 5 acres to resettle all the 60 households on, in exchange for a donation of 600,000 MMK per household. We have saved money for three years, from 2020 until 2022, to pay this amount. The church also helped to provide ownership documents from the government to us. In 2022, we received these with the signature from Nam Hpa Ka administrative officer, and we also informed the General Administrative Department (GAD) office. We have also applied to the government land survey office. After getting all the necessary documents, they came to measure the land in our place. We have also sent all the documents needed to an international organisation to help support us with building houses. Now, the progress has stalled at that stage. We have assigned six families who don’t have young children going to school to stay in that place as a guard.
After buying land, there are other challenges. Right now the most complicated situation is faced by the Man Wing Gyi Zone in Mansi Township, which has six IDP camps, out of which only two are recognised by the government as IDP camps. The largest ethnic group living around this area are Shan people, and there are also Kachin people, and some of the local community sold their land to IDPs for them to resettle. In order to purchase this land, these IDPs had to do migrant work for 4-5 years to save up the money. But after these IDPs bought land and applied for formal documents, some other local people in the area started to object to this plan, because it seems they do not want new people to settle there.
International aid organizations told us that if we cannot show them the documents for the land we purchase, they cannot support us to build our houses or to get public amenities such as water and electricity. So we started to apply for these documents. But to do so, we need to go through bureaucratic channels of the authorities and many times we faced difficulties. Here, people usually buy and sell land under customary practices. No one tries to get formal documents, land registration or form 105. We also presented these issues to these international humanitarian organizations. We requested them to accept the agreement document made between buyer, seller and village leaders that is part of our customary system. The condition that they can only support IDPs building houses if there is formal land ownership document is not working at all for us. We have never made these kind of documents since our ancestors’ time. It is just inviting more problems. Requiring such formal documents is also creating more conflicts between the local communities and IDPs.