Many refugees who have fled Burma due to ongoing conflict, persecution, and human rights abuses, mark World Refugee Day on June 20th with a sense of uncertainty and anxiety towards their future. This year, as the rainy season begins, refugees along the Thailand-Burma border and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Kachin, Chin, Arakan and northern Shan States, as well as other conflict-ridden areas, face severe shortages in aid, according to Burma Partnership. Over 220,000 IDPs are in camps in northern Burma, while a further 110,000 refugees live in a protracted refugee situation along the Thailand-Burma border.
If Myanmar hopes to make a genuine transition towards democracy it must recognize, respect, and protect the rights of refugees and IDPs, says Burma Partnership.
Since 2012, funding along the Thailand-Myanmar border has been steadily decreasing, fueling fears that the 110,000 refugees who live there will be repatriated before the Myanmar Government’s rhetoric of democracy, peace, and transition comes to fruition. The recent enforcement of regulations on movement in and out of the camps by authorities has restricted refugees from ataining other sources of income to support their daily needs, increasing the plea for adequate aid at a time when funding is becoming scarce.
Burma Partnership says that rather than alleviating their concerns, governments and international donors have neglected their fears of repatriation. Further exasperating their worries, reports of possible pilot projects for refugees, IDPs and/or families of ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) in Karen, Karenni, and Mon States, along with Tenasserim and Bago Regions have emerged. While the Myanmar Government and EAOs are currently the main initiators of these resettlement projects, international actors have also been actively involved in monitoring and constructing shelters for these sites – without consultations with the refugees themselves.
Over 110,000 refugees who fled Myanmar to seek protection in the nine camps along the Thailand-Myanmar border, embodying the years of conflict and the struggle for democracy. According to a statement issued on World Refugee Day by the Karen Women Organization (KWO), a community-based organization working closely with refugees along the Thailand-Myanmar border that has been endorsed by 77 solidarity organizations, the “conditions that led refugees to flee in the first place have yet to be resolved, as initial ceasefires have proven to be fragile and regularly breached.”
As ethnic communities continue to “seek refuge from the Myanmar Army’s relentless offensives, there is no guarantee that fighting will not occur in or spread to locations where refugees may return.” KWO calls on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Myanmar Government, the international donors, and all parties to respect the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, and uphold the rights of all refugees.
Despite ceasefire talks, according to Free Burma Rangers (FBR), a humanitarian organization delivering aid to civilians, fighting between the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and Myanmar Army in the Kokang area, northern Shan State, has been escalating over the past two months. “The Burma Army has increased its troop levels in the region and has engaged in major military operations, including the use of tanks and heavy artillery barrages” said FBR in a statement. Over 100,000 people have been displaced from the Kokang area since fighting broke out in February 2015.
These numbers are in addition to the 120,000 displaced people in Kachin State who have fled their homes since the Myanmar Army breached a ceasefire with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) four years ago. Both local and international organizations have struggled to provide aid to those displaced by the conflict as the Myanmar Government restricts movement of aid in conflict ridden and/or EAO controlled areas.
According to a statement endorsed by over 55 solidarity organizations, starting this month, “IDPs are expected to receive as little as 200 Kyat per day (USD $0.18) in aid, which is impossible to survive on.”
The organizations also say that ‘’While the Government continues to use its rhetoric of peace and reform to invite donors and investors to continue to fund the peace talks and development projects, some of the heaviest fighting in ethnic areas took place this year as the Burma Army attacked the KIA and civilian population in Laiza with airstrikes for the first time in March 2015.’’
In addition, food supplies for 350 Khumi Chin IDPs who fled the outbreak of conflict in March 2015 between the Arakan Army and the Myanmar Army will also run out at the end of the month. “The long-standing pattern of abuses hasn’t stopped; in fact we see it escalating in the Paletwa area, [Chin State]” said Rachel Fleming, Chin Human Rights Organization’s Advocacy Director in a statement. To add insult to injury, the Chin IDPs are being pressured by the Myanmar authorities to return to areas where they believe both sides have already laid landmines.
Burma Partnership reiterates the calls of KWO that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, international donors, the Myanmar Government and all parties involved must hold genuine consultations with refugees and IDPs as primary stakeholders in the timing, conditions and locations of their safe and dignified voluntary return. If the Myanmar Government hopes to bring home the refugees and convince IDPs to return, it must “participate in the peace process in good faith by immediately ceasing all offensives and withdrawing all troops stationed in ethnic areas, honor original ceasefire agreements, and begin political dialogue prior to the discussion of repatriation.”
Until a safe and dignified return of refugees and IDPs can be ensured, the international donors must continue the provision of aid and assistance; and the Myanmar Government must allow international aid agencies access to those affected by conflict, in cooperation with local organizations. Otherwise, the ethnic communities of Myanmar will continue to be caught in a cycle of conflict and displacement, and peace in Myanmar will remain elusive, the organization says.
Worldwide displacement hits all-time high
António Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, warned on June 17th that the world is facing a staggering crisis as the number of forcibly displaced people rises to record numbers – 59.5 million at the end of 2014. The UNHCR said in a statement that the deaths of hundreds of migrants at sea is one of the most visible consequences of the crisis, with people experiencing ”terrible suffering”.
Guterres issued the stark warning a few hours after UNHCR had issued its annual Global Trends Report: World at War, showing worldwide displacement was at the highest level ever recorded.
The report said the number of people forcibly displaced at the end of 2014 as a result of war, conflict and persecution had risen to a staggering 59.5 million compared to 51.2 million a year earlier and 37.5 million a decade ago.
Long one of the world’s major displacement producing regions, the number of refugees and internally displaced people in Asia grew by 31 per cent in 2014 to 9 million people. Continuing displacement was also seen in and from Myanmar in 2014, including of Rohingya from Rakhine state and in the Kachin and Northern Shan regions.
“When you see the news in any global network we clearly get the impression that the world is at war. And indeed many areas of the world are today in a completely chaotic situation and the result is this staggering escalation of displacement, the staggering escalation of suffering, because each displaced person is a tragic story,” Guterres added.
“To those that think that it doesn’t matter because humanitarian organizations will be there and able to clean up the mess, I think it’s important to say that we are no longer able to clean up the mess,” he told reporters in Istanbul.
“UN agencies, NGOs, the Red Cross — we no longer have the capacities and the resources to respond to such a dramatic increase in humanitarian needs.”
In this video, the UNHCR warns of dangerous new era in worldwide displacement as report shows almost 60 million people forced to flee their homes: