Nicola Longobardi

Prisoners of Heroin
Location: Denpasar
Nationality: Italian
Biography: Nicola Longobardi is an independent photographer, who is based in Indonesia. At age 25, he was a student of the well-known Beijing Culture and Languages University in Beijing and during that period he decided to dedicate his life to photography.... MORE
Public Story
Prisoners of Heroin
Copyright Nicola Longobardi 2023
Date of Work Feb 2014 - Ongoing
Updated Nov 2018
Location Myanmar
Topics Documentary, Drug Abuse, Fear, Health/Healing, Human Rights, Military, Photography, Photojournalism, Poverty, Prison

I went in Kachin state to follow the fighting between K.I.A. (Kachin Independent Army) and central government Army. During that trip many people told me the main threat for the Kachin people was not the war but the heroin.

Dangling syringes from the arms is a common scene in Kachin state. People are not aggressive, they are hopeless.They are depressed. In a land where the future is only tomorrow, bodies are signed by tough works, fatigue and pain the heroin is the only way to escape.

According to a report written by K.W.A.T. (Kachin Women's Association Thailand) in some areas of Kachin state the percentage of drug users has risen around 60-70%. The lack of interest from the central government to resolve this social plague leads the people to think the heroin is a kind of weapon. A silent way to annihilate the inhabitants of a stubborn region which claims for their identity and strives for independence.

Due to this threat, two integrate organisation in the territory have decided to take action and find a solution for this problem. One is the K.I.A. In the areas under the control of the K.I.A. a series of draconian laws have been adopted. One morning I followed a platoon of soldier along the roads near the city of Laiza. They stopped all the people who was traveling and force them to make a drug test. When the tests turned out positive, soldiers arrest the men and take them into a rehab center where they gonna spend minimum 6 month.

The other organisation is the Kachin National Anti-Drug Committee, better known as Pat Jasan. Pat Jasan is a coalition of the Kachin Christian Churches founded on April 2014. Group of vigilantes patrol the streets of Myitkyina and nearby townships. They capture drug users and put them away in rehabilitation centres. Junkies are locked  in chains together in a big room.

Faith and abstinence are the only therapy provided inside the centres. No medicine, no psychological support.

Many human rights organisations criticised the condition of those centres and the psychological impact of the treatment. I asked to Lum Hkwang, leader of the Pat Jasan group who runs the Bethel centre, what he thought of these criticisms and he answered:
"When we capture the drug users, they often try to escape. Drug is a tough enemy and we must be tougher than her. We have rules here, they must to follow these rules. I heard the criticism but we don't care.   We want to give our children a drug-free state of Kachin and this is the right way".

Once again the problem of drugs is faced by fighting against drug addicts instead of finding solutions against the real causes like depression, poverty and marginalisation.

 Nicola Longobardi
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