By AUNG THET WINE
The Irrawaddy News
LAPUTTA, Burma — Burmese authorities will close three remaining refugee camps in Laputta, one of the areas hardest-hit by Cyclone Nargis, on August 5, forcing about 6,000 remaining refugees to return to their villages, according to sources in the township.
Refugees who oppose relocation will face forced eviction, refugee sources said. The three refugee camps held as many as 50,000 refugees in recent months.
Sources said authorities have pressured refugees at the three remaining camps in Laputta Township since June 20 to go back to their villages...
"We are summoned every evening by a camp official and told to go back to our villages. He said our tents will be dragged down after August 5 and all our belongings will be set on fire. He advised we should leave as early as we can and should not blame them if it happens," said a female villager from Mi-Kyaung Ai living in Yadanar Dipa camp.
The refugees said they told the camp officer, Win Thant, that they were scared to return to their cyclone devastated villages and asked to stay at the camps for a few more months, but were turned down.
Laputta Township administration chairman Myint Oo told refugees sheltering at Three-Mile and Five-Mile camps to leave.
"After August 5, we will not receive our ration rice and the refugees may not receive other food items. They said they will continue to take care of us, if we agree to go back to our villages," said a 40-year-old man from Sa-Lu Seik village who is living at Five-Mile camp.
Before leaving the camp, refugees must sign a consent paper showing they voluntarily returned to their villages.
"If we return to our village, we are provided about 3 pyi of rice (pyi is a Burmese measurement close to 0.25 Liters), chili, onion, a sheet of tarpaulin, six packs of instant noodles and a zinc pot. Then the authorities send us to our villages by boat," said a female refugee at Three-Mile camp.
Many refugees are in desperate fear of returning to their former homes.
“I don't want to go back to that place, and I dare not live there anymore,” said a 35-year-old refugee from Kaing Thaung village, who lost his wife, two children and relatives during the cyclone.
“I would see my dead wife and kids in my mind every day, if I go back there,” he said. “I am not going back.”
According to sources, some refugees who have refused to return home are conscripted for forced labor, occasionally beaten over random, petty accusations or expelled from the camps.
"If we don't do forced labor, we could be driven out from the camp,” said a villager from Mi-Kyaung Ai who lives at Yatanar Dipa camp. “If a couple quarrel or speak loudly, the husband might be called in and beaten and then forced to leave the camp."
"When other refugees were relocated from the township to camps outside of Laputta, soldiers blocked all the exits and pushed people into trucks,” said a housewife living at Five-Mile camp.
“They were forced out in chaos. I am afraid of what will happen on August 5.”
Many refugees said they planned to build make-shift huts near the Laputta-Myaung Mya road and continue to live in the area, sources said.
"I will build a hut by the highway. I am not sure whether we will be allowed or not. If not, I must find a place close to the town," said a villager from Po Laung who lives at Five-Mile camp.
According to refugees, UN agencies and international NGO workers are aware of the plan to close the camps.