Refugees and IDPs Stuck in Limbo as Humanitarian Aid Diminishes

“Our villages and lands are occupied by [the] Burmese government and Wa [the United Wa State Army (UWSA)] troops. It is impossible for us to return home under the current conditions.”

Sai Leng, Shan State Refugee Committee - Thai Border

Over three and a half years have passed since the signing of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), but displaced communities along the Thailand-Myanmar border are facing increasing insecurity with little prospect for a safe, dignified, voluntary and sustainable return. According to two reports published by Shan and Karen human rights organizations, the presence of armed groups continues to grow in ethnic areas, posing barriers for the return of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), while the Myanmar military continues to expand its infrastructure to facilitate troop movements, all the while launching attacks against ethnic armed organizations in ceasefire areas.

The report by Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) and Shan State Refugee Committee – Thai Border (SSRC-TB), launched on 23 May, 2019 in Bangkok, highlights the increasing insecurity of over 6,000 IDPs and refugees along the Shan State-Thailand border whose already precarious refuge is increasingly at stake due to an expanding  military presence and cuts to humanitarian aid. As described in the report, “Ceasefires are tenuous, the peace process has stalled, and armed clashes and human rights violations are continuing.” Speaking on the current situation of the displaced communities, Sai Leng, head of the SSRC-TB stated, “Our villages and lands are occupied by [the] Burmese government and Wa [the United Wa State Army (UWSA)] troops. It is impossible for us to return home under the current conditions.” He lamented, “Yet appeals to Western donors to reverse their decision to end food aid to the Shan camps in October 2017 have so far gone unheeded.”

Since the bilateral ceasefire was signed between the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army – South (RCSS/SSA-S) and the Myanmar military in 2011, both the Myanmar military and the UWSA have taken advantage of the ceasefire to reinforce, expand and deploy forces into contested areas where IDPs reside. In addition, two IDP camps in these contested southern Shan State areas have experienced artillery shelling as recently as February 2019 as the Myanmar military targeted RCSS/SSA-S outposts. The event caused panic among IDPs who prepared to flee to Thailand and organized evacuation drills. Meanwhile, new bridges, roads and other infrastructure continues to be built by the Myanmar military. Such upgrades not only make way for the Myanmar military’s swift troop movements, but could also facilitate planned construction of the Mong Ton Dam on the Salween River, which will inevitably flood the original lands of the IDPs and refugees.

Similar concerns were expressed in a report by the Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG), which brought attention to the difficult living conditions of 5,610 Myaing Gyi Ngu IDPs in Karen State. According to the report, less than one year after the signing of the NCA, the Myanmar military began increasing troops near the site of the Hatgyi Dam project, which ultimately led to heavy fighting between the Myanmar military/Border Guard Force and the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) splinter group, who is a non-signatory to the NCA.

IDPs in Myaing Gyi Ngu remain entirely dependent on humanitarian aid, but international humanitarian organizations continue to have limited access to the area. IDPs lack basic supplies such as clean water, while the Myanmar government only offers 1,770 bags containing 50kg of rice every three months – equivalent to a mere 221 calories per day – per IDP. Leaving the camp for work and livelihood entails huge risks as many IDPs face injuries and possible deaths from landmine contamination. Four IDPs have already died from landmine explosions between 2016 – 2018 according to KHRG. Meanwhile, the presence of armed actors in their area of origin prevents the safe and dignified return of IDPs, as periodic fighting has continued.

The situation for Karen and Shan IDPs are two tales that are all too common throughout Myanmar’s long civil war as ethnic people in conflict areas continue to endure a range of grave human rights violations committed primarily by the Myanmar military – most recently in Rakhine State against Arakan communities. While some may purport that the recent unilateral ceasefire by the Myanmar military presents an opportunity to return or resettle displaced communities, ceasefires or reduction of clashes are not an adequate measure of whether it is safe for displaced communities to return to their places of origin. What is needed are concrete steps towards a genuine peace process that address the root causes of displacement and conflict. This must include an end to military offensives and withdrawal of troops from ethnic areas – including their family members – holding the military accountable for grave human rights violations, and addressing the grievances of the IDPs and refugees by guaranteeing their rights to restitution. Furthermore, large scale natural resource extraction, infrastructure and agriculture investment projects in ethnic areas should cease until a federal system of land and natural resource governance has been adopted.

In the meantime, the international community must resume or continue to support the ethnic communities who have been displaced due to conflict, including cross border humanitarian aid. The concerns expressed by the IDPs and refugees teach us that peace and security is more than just the absence of conflict. For a safe, dignified, voluntary and sustainable return of IDPs and refugees to take place, there must be concrete steps taken towards a genuine federal democratic system of governance that is based on equality and self-determination of all ethnic nationalities and guarantees and protects the rights of all peoples in Myanmar.

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[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.


Resources from the past week

actions

Statements and Press Releases

Charges Against Journalist Aung Marm Oo Must Be Dropped: Burma Government Must Repeal Repressive Laws Used to Attack Media Freedom

By Burma Campaign UK

Tatmadaw Initiate Widespread Forced Labour Demands on Chin Civilians in Effort to Keep Light Infantry Division Stocked with Food Supplies

By Chin Human Rights Organization

New Report Identifies Freedom of Religion or Belief As Key to Peace, Reconciliation and Democratisation

By Christian Solidarity Worldwide

Drop Case Against Rakhine Journalist Aung Marm Oo: Repeal Unlawful Associations Act, Protect Freedom of Expression and Association

By Fortify Rights

ရွမ္းလူ႔အခြင့္အေရးမ႑ိဳင္ႏွင့္ ရွမ္းျပည္နယ္ဒုကၡသည္မ်ားဆိုင္ရာ ေကာ္မတီ(ထိုင္းနယ္စပ္)မွ ထုတ္ျပန္ေၾကညာခ်က္

By Shan Human Rights Foundation and Shan State Refugee Committee – Thai Border

Shrinking Refuge: New Threats to Refugee Security on the Shan-Thai Border

By Shan Human Rights Foundation and Shan State Refugee Committee – Thai Border

UN Refugee Chief Visits Myanmar This Week

By UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency

reports

Reports

Burma’s Identity Crisis: How Ethno-religious Nationalism Has Led to Religious Intolerance, Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide

By Christian Solidarity Worldwide

Burma Army Attacks and Road Projects Displace Over 1000 Villagers in Karen Ceasefire Area

By Free Burma Rangers

Dreaming of Home, Hoping for Peace: Protracted Displacement in Southeast Myanmar

By Karen Human Rights Group

ေလးလတာအပစ္ရပ္ကာလ သံုးသပ္ခ်က္

By Myanmar Cultural Research Society

ရွမ္း-ထိုင္းနယ္စပ္ရွိဒုကၡသည္စခန္း ေနရာက်ဥ္းၾကပ္လာခါ လံုျခံဳေရးအား ၿခိမ္းေျခာက္မႈမ်ားရွိ

By Shan Human Rights Foundation and Shan State Refugee Committee – Thai Border

Shrinking Refuge: New Threats to Refugee Security on the Shan-Thai Border

By Shan Human Rights Foundation and Shan State Refugee Committee – Thai Border


Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.”

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