Between a Rock and a Hard Place: The Struggle of Returning Refugees to Resettle their Lands in Ye Phyu Township
Kye Zu Daw village is located along the banks of the Heinzel River in Ye Phyu Township, Tanintharyi Region in Southeast Myanmar. The village of approximately 53 households has a long history of displacement and dispossession. Forced to flee from their lands during the civil war, large swathes of their lands have now been enveloped by Protected Areas and agribusiness concessions during their absence. Today, villagers are squeezed between land grabs by private companies for oil palm and rubber plantations on one side, and the Tanintharyi Nature Reserve on the other, leaving them with limited livelihood options and forcing them to struggle to provide for their families.
Forced to leave their village as IDPs and refugees in 1992 during the civil war, villagers from Kye Zu Daw returned to their ancestral lands in 2012 to find their lands had been confiscated. Faced with few options, in 2016 Kye Zu Daw villagers decided that they would start the process of trying to register their lands, which had been categorised as VFV by the government. Despite their attempts to legally recover and register their lands, villagers have faced consistent barriers. They have been sued over three times by agribusiness companies, faced abuse and intimidation from the Department of Land Management and Statistics (DALMS), and being forced to compete with companies on an unequal playing field to register their lands under a legal framework that does not reflect how land is used by communities in Myanmar and strips them of their customary and communal land rights. As a result of the consistent hardship and discrimination faced by Kye Zu Daw villagers in recovering their lands, many have given up hope, some even considering returning to the border.
The case of Kye Zu Daw highlights the insurmountable difficulties that returning IDPs and refugees face with respect to land restitution in Myanmar. As a country with over 1.7 million refugees and IDPs, the denial of the rights of displaced people to have restored to them their lands and properties has enormous implications throughout the country. It also highlights the conundrum that rural upland communities find themselves in as a result of the VFV Land Management Law. On the one-hand communities are pushed by the law into registering their lands and giving up customary tenure, but on the other local Department of Land Management and Statistics (DALMS) offices prevent local communities from registering, creating a legal impasse for rural communities.
This report calls upon the government of Myanmar to guarantee citizens from Kye Zu Daw the right to equality and justice, to treat villagers who have been displaced by conflict for decades with dignity, and to expediently restore lands that have been wrongfully confiscated to returning villagers.