In the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, tribal fights – sparked by disputes over land, resources and other grievances – lead to dozens of deaths and thousands of displacements each year. Modern war weapons including guns have become increasingly available to fighters in the Papua New Guinea Highlands which has made violence in the area much more deadly than it was previously. No one is spared from the fight and anyone or anything is a target including children, mothers, pastors and health-care workers.From its base in Mount Hagen, the International Committee of the Red Cross helps those affected by conflict in the Highlands by distributing aid to displaced families, rehabilitating health-care clinics and ensuring access to clean water – among other activities.
One of the most serious fights took place last year in Pilikambi; it left more than 20 people dead and resulted in the burning of around 500 homes. Pictured below are many of those whose homes were burned to the ground.
Helen Rami’s Story
Helen Rami, an elder of the conflict-affected Wambia clan in Southern Highlands Province suffered severe burns after the house in which she
was sheltering was hit by a grenade during a tribal fight in 2013. Helen spent more than a year in hospital undergoing treatment for her injuries and to this day continues to experience intense physical pain. “I woke up and felt a strange, heavy feeling in the house. I looked outside: I saw lighting and darkness everywhere. We did not know that we were surrounded by our enemies. I told everyone: ‘Our enemies are here! Wake up! Wake up!’ They started burning down the house. It was hard for us to escape and a lot of people died. I tried to shelter underneath a blanket but it also caught fire and burned so much of my skin. I prayed to God to help me. I said, ‘God, my life is yours.’ He answered my prayers because somehow I escaped. I don’t remember what happened after that. I did not think of whether I was dead or alive. My life was already gone.”
Ben Ali’s Story
Ben Ali from the displaced Wambia clan in Southern Highlands province, stands on the site of his house, which was burned down during an
attack on his community. Ben was asleep when combatants from an opposing tribe descended on his village early one morning. He woke to the sound of gunfire and the terrifying sight of armed men in the doorway of his home. “I woke up and saw men holding a gun. I said, ‘oh God, I’m in the hands of the enemy.’ His wife and sons were shot dead in the attack. “I want the fighting to stop, but it’s up to the young boys now whether or not we will have peace.”
The frame of a bed in the remains of a house that was burned.
Enga province, Landelam. Portrait of two women during an essential household items distribution organized together by the ICRC and Papua New Guinea Red Crescent Society. Judi’s house in Landelam was burned to the ground during a tribal conflict – she was forced to flee to stay with relatives in Enga’s provincial capital of Wabag.
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