Voices of the Squatters

  • By Myanmar Now
  • 14/09/2015

A child at a squatter settlement in Hlaing Thar Yar township in Yangon which sees regular flooding during monsoon. (Photo: Hkun Lat /Myanmar Now.)

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By Htet Khaung Lin, Ei Cherry Aung and Kyaw Lin Htoon

Lone Lone, in her 30s, a squatter near Okkala Road in North Okkalapa township

“I have been staying here over two years. When nationwide census was taken, we were asked about the number of family members. My husband drives a trishaw so when rentals went up to 40,000 kyats (US$30) a month, we could no longer pay. So the landlord evicted us and I bought this 15 feet x 10 feet bamboo house for 400,000 kyats ($320) using a loan. I haven’t repay this debt. I did not get official documents. I knew this was a squatter area but we had nowhere else to live. Of course, we are worried the government might evict us from our home but what can we do? Others are also living like us. If everyone moves, we would have to too. Here, we can get household water free of charge, but we have to pay 5,000 kyats ($4) for electricity. I used to be a street vendor but the business is not good, especially in the rainy season. I barely earn 3,000 kyats per day. Sometimes my husband doesn’t even make 1,500 kyats. My son started primary school this year, and I had to send him to school and pick him up so I could no longer sell things. Of course, I want to send my child to tuition when I see other people’s children attending tuition. But it costs 7,000 kyats ($5.50) We can’t afford it. We are struggling even to have enough to eat and drink each day.”

 

Win Naing, 45, a squatter near Ottama Road in North Okkala township

“There are some houses in this road that have a land grant, allowing them to live here. I have also been applying for a grant for my house since 2011. I have been living here even before 1988. Authorities approved my application this year but I didn’t have enough money to pay the required fees. Previously this whole area was full of small shops. I had nowhere to live so asked for permission from the local authorities to live here. The daily costs for our family of six is about 5,000 kyats, about the same amount we earn in a day. My son is in eighth standard and my daughter is attending a part-time nursing course after leaving school. I wanted her to continue her studies but it was not possible. I sell betel nut and other family members are day labourers. Even though we are squatters, our house and the land is worth about 20 million kyats ($16,000).”

 

U Pain (also known as U Than Bo)

U Pain was injured when staff from a private company forcibly evicted squatters living in a village in an industrial zone in Mingaladon township.

“I don’t live in the village. My brother-in-law does. I went to have a look because he called me, saying the village is being demolished. Clashes began around 10 a.m. on June 12 of this year. The villagers got upset when the company used heavy machinery to remove the houses. The villagers didn’t have time to pack their belongings. When the mothers realised this, they picked up their children and fled to the monastery. The men were at a loss as to whether they should run or bring what they have. Some houses had people inside, but the company did not seem to care. There are quite a few big homes and everything was destroyed - television sets, wardrobes, crockery. After that those who demolished the houses set up a fence. The villagers knew the houses would be destroyed but they didn’t know when exactly. There were about 500 people in plain clothes who took part in the destruction. I did not see a single policeman. I was hit by an iron tyre nut at the head and had to have 10 stitches. Three others were also hurt. My leg was also hacked with a knife. I don’t know who did it. When I regained consciousness, they were gone. My brother-in-law had to bring me to the hospital and I paid for the healthcare myself.”

 

Kyaw Lay, a squatter near a golf course in Hlaing Thar Yar township

“I’ve been working at a nearby fish processing plant for about 10 years now. I was born in Pathein but moved to Yangon a long time ago. I became a squatter seven years ago. So far we - myself, my wife and a child - only have had to move once. I didn’t check the voter list. I’ve just been busy with work.”

 

Moe Moe, a squatter near a golf course in Hlaing Thar Yar township

“A business called Shwe Let Yar sold these plots to us. The price of my plot was 750,000 kyats ($600) and I’ve been paying them 40,000 kyats every month. I’ve paid about 640,000 kyats ($500) but we have yet to get the permits to live here. If we asked for our money back, they said they would give back only 70 percent so we would lose around 200,000 kyats. I don’t really know who they are. We bought the land because they were very persuasive. Now we cannot wait any longer. Yes, we have a piece of paper from the company. It’s very long.”

 

San Yee, a squatter in Hlaing Thar Yar township

“While we start living here, the area was overgrown with weeds. As our squatter houses by the roadside were frequently destroyed, we cleared the bushes and moved here. I have been here over 20 years, and no one ordered us to leave. During the rainy seasons, the water level would be so high we could only keep our heads above water.”

 

Thida, a squatter in Hlaing Thar Yar township

“I moved from Yekyi Township, Ayeyarwady region. Two years ago, a gang of thugs arrived to destroy the place. The local elders were too scared to say anything. We formed a group of 16 women and protested. We got these homes with our sweat and blood so didn’t want to lose them and we also thought they wouldn’t attack women. But they returned after the elders left. Everybody ran away but my sister and I couldn’t because they surrounded our mother. They hacked my hand and my elder sister’s head. Iron tyre nuts hit my chest and the right eye. I have almost lost my vision. We were warned that things would get worse if we lodged a complaint. We received only 300,000 kyats ($237) for medical costs.”

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