Residents of a slum area in Yangon’s Hlaing Tharyar township held a demonstration on September 13 against plans by a local firm to evict them from their homes.
The demonstration was held in front of FMI City, where many of the protesters say they have been employed for years as construction workers and gardeners.
The protesters live in an area behind the FMI City residences. The neighbourhood, located beside Tharyar Gone Creek and known locally as the “Labourers’ Community”, is home to about 2000 people from more than 300 families.
“We have worked for First Myanmar Investment at FMI City since 1995,” said U Thaung Sein, a former full-time assistant labourer in charge of gardening at the residences. According to FMI City management, he was fired in 2005 for “breaking the company’s rules”.
“The place we are living now is the place the company gave us to live, but now they want us to move out and have even brought charges against some of us for not leaving. But they don’t own this land. We are living in a vacant lot near Tharyar Gone Creek behind the residences,” U Thaung Sein said.
He said most of the people living in the slum have census and national identification cards, although some lost their census cards during Cyclone Nargis in 2008.
“The township authorities have given approval for us to live here and they even allowed us to vote in the 2010 election. But now First Myanmar Investment is accusing us of invading their property. We didn’t invade. The company gave us this place to live when they built FMI City,” U Thaung Sein said.
He said that nearly all the adults living in the community have worked for daily wages in FMI City, mostly as construction workers, gardeners and cleaning staff.
U Aung Zaw Win, a former gardener for FMI City who was also fired in 2005, said the neighbourhood had been approved by former township authorities and there was even a signboard reading “Labourers’ Community” at the entrance.
“But the company took the signboard a few months ago, and now they say we are invaders,” he said, adding that the company has brought lawsuits against more than 50 people for not leaving the neighbourhood after they were warned to vacate.
“We have nowhere to go, so we didn’t move. All of us work for daily wages and we don’t have spare money to rent a house somewhere else. So we held a protest to request that we be allowed to continue living here and that they stop suing us,” U Aung Zaw Win said.
He said First Myanmar Investment also told the people against whom charges have been brought that they would have to repay court expenses and transportation fees after the trials.
“We don’t have a chance to fight the charges because we are poor. But we also can’t move because we have no money due to the fact that we are daily wage earners. Now we have to pay all the expenses,” U Aung Zaw Win said.
One 35-year-old housewife who lives in the Labourers’ Community said residents know they do not own the land, but they also want First Myanmar Investment to understand their difficulties.
“Every family has students. Most of the children here are learning in the monastery because their parents don’t have enough money to send them to school. And we don’t have enough money to move to another place,” she said.
The housewife said the company first told them to move in 2007 but they had nowhere to go.
“Then FMI City started throwing all their trash here. We had to build our houses on top of piles of waste. And this year they started bringing lawsuits against us. Some families moved out because they were afraid, but most of us still live here,” she said.
U Aung Zaw Win said about 200 people in the community have identification cards from the company because of their jobs as construction workers for FMI City. Some are permanent workers and some are temporary, he added.
But Daw Nwe Win, the manager of the FMI City residences, said there were only ever two permanent labourers there.
“We had only two permanent labourers before, but we fired them in 2005 because they broke the company’s rules,” she said, referring to U Thaung Sein and U Aung Zaw Win.
U Khin Maung Win, the deputy estate manager of FMI City residences, acknowledged that the company sometimes hires construction workers on a day-to-day basis.
“But they can’t say they are workers for our company. They are daily wage earners, and they work at other places too,” he said.
Daw Nwe Win said First Myanmar Investment has brought lawsuits against 58 people for not leaving the land.
So far 24 of them have been brought to court, with three more scheduled to appear on September 19. No decisions have been passed down by the judge yet.
“Our company owns a total 650 acres, from the entrance to the residences to Tharyar Gone Creek. We allowed people to live there in the past because we didn’t need to use some of the land behind the residences, but now we are planning to extend the area of FMI City and build new houses there,” she said.
“We first told them to move out in 2007 and they didn’t go, so in June we started bringing lawsuits against them at Hlaing Tharyar Township Court. We’ve filed lawsuits against 58 people to make them leave the area.”
“The new houses can’t be too close to the place where these people live. Some of our residents are worried about their security now, and sometimes these people act rudely towards our engineers. Some of them have moved but many are still here,” Daw Nwe Win said.