02/06/2020, 15.50
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Caritas working with government and rebels to protect Kachin IDPs from coronavirus

As a result of internal strife, 106,305 people have lived in IDP camps since 2011. Caritas is currently boosting its actions to prevent the spread of the virus to the facilities. For its national director, “the country’s Catholic community is ready to mobilise” in case of need.

Yangon (AsiaNews) – In Kachin, a state on the north-eastern border with China, Caritas is closely involved with the government, rebel groups and international organisations to prevent the spread of coronavirus to the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps set up as a result of internal strife, this according to Richard Win Tun Kyi, national director of the Karuna Mission Social Solidarity (KMSS), the local branch of Caritas Internationalis, who spoke to AsiaNews.

According to the latest data from the United Nations Office for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 97,455 people still live in 139 camps in Kachin. Some 57,951 are in 120 government-run camps, whilst another 39,504 are in 19 camps under the control of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO). Another 8,850 people have found refuge further south, in 32 camps set up by Myanmar authorities in Shan State.

In Kachin and Shan, the Church has a strong presence, due to the high number of Christians (Catholics and Baptists).

In Myanmar, local authorities have not yet reported any case of 2019-nCoV infection in the country despite the rapid spread of the virus worldwide,

“In the border areas, KMSS and local partners have responded to the health crisis, but at present there are no suspicious cases,” said Win Tun Kyi.

“Kachin State is one of the most important access points to the country on the border with the Chinese province of Yunnan, where the Chinese authorities have already reported several cases of infection. For this reason, people are on high alert.”

A few days ago, Caritas stepped up its work to prevent the spread of the virus to IDP camps. “We are especially training people to take precautions in terms of hygiene and sanitation, like washing their hands frequently and wearing protective masks,” said the KMSS director.

“It is essential that any suspected case be reported to the medical staff and officials in charge of reception facilities. In the meantime, we are in close contact with UN organisations based in Yangon (in the south of the country), with whom we are discussing what to do in the event of an emergency. The next meeting is scheduled for tomorrow.

“Our volunteers are also working with the Department of Health of the Kachin Independence Organisation,” he added.

Although no case has been declared yet, the outbreak has already changed the daily life in Kachin State. “The border crossings are closed. Goods face obstacles in moving from one country to another. This is having an impact on the economy in the areas closest to the border. The most immediate effect is the increase in prices of consumer goods.

“For now, this hasn’t interfered with our operations. However, we are prepared to act if the situation gets worse. We will shortly meet our backers and donors with whom we’ll work out a 'plan B'.

“We are working according to our capabilities. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar (CBCM) is monitoring the situation closely through Kachin bishops,” Win Tun Kyi explained. “In case we need something, the country’s Catholic community is ready to mobilise.” (PF)

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