World Refugee Day Marked by Insecurity and Worry

World Refugee Day passed on 20 June, 2019 with civil society of concerned communities calling for the protection, participation and prioritization of the hundreds of thousands of displaced ethnic people from Myanmar[1], whether they be Kachin, Karen, Rohingya, Pah-Oh, Ta’ang, Shan, Karenni, Mon, or Rakhine. This is in the context of efforts by actors such as ASEAN, the Myanmar Government, and international agencies working on the return of displaced people without adequate consultation and with conditions remaining unsafe for return.

A report – “There is No One Who Does Not Miss Home” – launched by 15 civil society organizations on 20 June, 2019 in Yangon, brought attention to the hundreds of thousands of people displaced by armed conflict in ethnic nationalities regions of northern and eastern Myanmar. Together with Progressive Voice, the local organizations, coming from ethnic Kachin, Shan, Karen, Karenni, Mon, Pa-Oh, and Ta’ang areas and who work with displaced communities, highlighted the concerns, needs and perspectives of refugees and IDPs living in protracted displacement due to armed conflict. The report was timely as the peace process is faltering, ceasefires are breaking down, and the ongoing civil war continues displacing more and more people. In the past few months, around 40,000 ethnic Rakhine have been displaced due to conflict between the Arakan Army and the Myanmar military while just this week, over 200 Ta’ang villagers had to flee as clashes took place between the Myanmar military and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army. In fact the report, which was based primarily on 338 interviews with displaced people, cited security – such as armed clashes, human rights violations by the Myanmar military, militarization and landmines – as the main concern regarding any possible return.

Yet despite this context of insecurity, the Myanmar Government has announced a plan to close IDP camps in Karen, Kachin, Shan and Rakhine States. Meanwhile with the Government not permitting the delivery of essential humanitarian aid to parts of Kachin and northern Shan State  not under Government-control, and with funding cuts from donors in aid to refugee and IDP camps in the southeast of Myanmar, many displaced people feel anxious and under pressure to return to a situation that is clearly not safe. As Naw Blooming Night Zan of the Karen Refugee Committee stated at the launch of the report, “While aid for our country is increasing and there is this supposed increase in economic opportunities, we are instead witnessing some of the worst conditions for displaced ethnic communities we have observed in decades. Refugees are getting starved out of camps, while IDPs are risking their lives to seek livelihoods in areas riddled with landmines, face getting trafficked to feed their families, and ethnic people are dying as a result.”

While IDPs and refugees in northern and eastern Myanmar are facing these extremely concerning circumstances, plans are being made for the return of the nearly one million Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh, without consultation or their participation. This is despite the fact that the state-sponsored persecution and violence – of which the UN-mandated International Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar concluded that Myanmar’s generals should be tried for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity – has not been addressed. ASEAN in particular, is proving itself a complicit partner in the whitewashing of the mass violence that took place in Rakhine State. On 7 June 2019, a leaked copy of the “ASEAN Preliminary Needs Assessment for Repatriation in Rakhine State” report by the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA Centre) and their Emergency Response and Assessment Team (ASEAN-ERAT) revealed deep flaws of ASEAN’s approach. It has been heavily criticized for failing to address the reasons why around one million Rohingyas became refugees in the first place, while failing to properly consult the refugee communities themselves. Furthermore, the assessment does not even use the word Rohingya and instead describes them as ‘Muslim’, bowing to pressure from the Myanmar Government to deny the Rohingya the right to self-identify. In a joint statement, Progressive Voice, FORUM-ASIA and ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights expressed, “The government of Myanmar must ensure that the human rights of the Rohingya community are protected and respected while safe conditions should be in place in Rakhine State before any refugees are repatriated from Bangladesh.”

Displaced people have rights and voice. Governments and intergovernmental bodies such as the UN and ASEAN as duty bearers must fulfil their responsibilities according to international human rights laws and standards by listening to the voice of the displaced people and respond accoridngly. These communities must be consulted and be able to participate in all decisions that affect their future such as deciding whether it is safe or viable to return. Prematurely closing IDP camps or cutting rations and thus pressuring refugees to return could potentially lead to further displacement. This is especially the case as the conditions that caused their displacement in the first place – armed conflict, militarization, human rights abuses, land confiscation and the systematic marginalization of ethnic populations, still exist. Ceasefires especially the existing precarious agreements currently in place in Myanmar, are simply not enough for people to return. These are political problems and a durable political solution is needed. This includes guarantees of ethnic nationalities’ rights, equality, and self-determination under a federal system of governance, as well as accountability and justice for the crimes of the Myanmar military that caused people to flee in the first place are addressed. Meanwhile, as Khin Ohmar, Chair of the Progressive Voice Advisory Board, and Rohingya advocate Wai Wai Nu express in an opinion piece on World Refugee Day, “If the international community is committed to supporting Myanmar’s transition to democracy and sustainable peace, the voluntary, safe and dignified return of IDPs and refugees must be its priority.”

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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

ASEAN: Prioritize Rohingya rights and safety

By ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development and Progressive Voice

ASEAN Civil Societies and Rohingya Organisations Issue A Joint Statement on ASEAN – ERAT Preliminary Needs Assessment for Repatriation in Rakhine State, Myanmar

By ASEAN Civil Societies and Rohingya Organisations

Statement on World Refugee Day 2019

By Coalition of Rohingya Organizations in Malaysia

World Refugee Day – EU and Other Donors Must Resume Support to Refugees From Burma

By Karen Peace Support Network

ကရင္ၿငိမ္းခ်မ္းေရးအေထာက္အကူျပဳကြန္ရက္၏ ထုတ္ျပန္ေၾကညာခ်က္ ဥေရာပသမဂၢႏွင့္ အျခားအလွဴရွင္မ်ား ျမန္မာႏိုင္ငံမွ ဒုကၡသည္မ်ားအား

By Karen Peace Support Network

Burma/Myanmar: End Marginalization of Displaced Ethnic Communities

By Progressive and 14 Civil Soceity Organizations

ျမန္မာႏိုင္ငံ – ထြက္ေျပးတိမ္းေရွာင္ရသူ တိုင္းရင္းသားလူထုမ်ားကို ပစ္ပယ္ထားျခင္းအားရပ္တန္႔ပါ

By Progressive and 14 Civil Soceity Organizations

reports

Reports

“There Is No One Who Does Not Miss Home: A Report on Protracted Displacement Due to Armed Conflict in Burma/Myanmar”

By Progressive and 14 Civil Soceity Organizations

“အိမ္မလြမ္းသူဘယ္သူရွိမလဲ – ျမန္မာႏိုင္ငံ၏ လက္နက္ကိုင္ပဋိပကၡႏွင့္ ဆက္စပ္ေနေသာ ကာလရွည္ၾကာ ေနရပ္စြန္႔ခြာထြက္ေျပးတိမ္းေရွာင္

By Progressive and 14 Civil Soceity Organizations


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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