Thousands of people fearing an escalation in fighting between ethnic rebels and government troops in Kachin state near the Myanmar-China border have fled their villages, with many seeking shelter in churches and temples.
The fighting, which first broke out between Kachin Independent Army and government forces on June 9, had spread yesterday and today to northern parts of neighboring Shan state, according to the Kachin News Group.
At least 700 refugees have so far sought refuge in churches and at a Buddhist temple in Wai Maw near the Kachin state capital Myitkyina in northern Myanmar.
The majority, however, have gone to Myitkyina or other major towns to stay with relatives or crossed the Chinese border.
“Those who do not have relatives in Myitkyina are going to churches for shelter and food,” said Jan Nhkum, 45, a villager from Ga Ra Yang. Everyone from the village fled, she said.
Most of the refugees are women and children.
Worried church workers in Wai Maw say if the fighting spreads they could be inundated by refugees.
Sara Yaw, a local Catholic catechist said: “We are already struggling to provide food and shelter for 300 refugees.” But people are still coming to the church compound.
Sara Pawlu of the local Baptist church said: “Up to now, there are over 700 villagers registered as refugees in the Christian Churches as well as at a Buddhist temple.” That figure is expected to rise.
He said the churches have informed the authorities and applied for aid. Local government has provided some food, but there was likely to be a need for clean water, shelters, medical supplies and volunteers to help the refugees.