UK Must Take Urgent Action to Support IDPs and Refugees from Burma

Burma Campaign UK today called on the British government to coordinate increased international support for Internally Displaced People (IDPs) and refugees from Burma.

The entire country lacks the capacity to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, but the situation of refugees and IDPs is of particular concern. They have even less capacity to cope with the crisis, and are living in conditions which make the spread of the virus much harder to control.

Inside Burma, hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people, who have fled conflict, are already living in appalling conditions. This is caused in part by restrictions on the delivery of aid by the Burmese government, and in part by the lack of adequate financial support from international donors, including the UK.

Having already lost everything, and being forced to live in appalling conditions, internally displaced people now face the threat of COVID-19. Their circumstances, already living on the edge of survival, often in squalid camps with high density populations, make them especially vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19.

In Rakhine State and parts of Chin State, these problems are made worse by an internet ban which impacts more than one million people, stopping them from accessing life-saving information.

The situation is also very serious for refugees from Burma. International donors were already providing far less aid for the Rohingya camps in Bangladesh than the UN said it needed. Now significant extra resources will be needed to help alleviate the impacts of COVID-19.

Refugees in Thailand, mainly ethnic Karen and Karenni, have suffered from cuts in international aid which have left them struggling for food and denied adequate medical care. 2,300 people in Ei Tu Hta camp in Karen State have had all aid cut, leaving them without enough food, healthcare and vaccinations for children.

These people desperately needed an increase in aid even before the dangers of COVID-19 hit these refugee camps.

“Britain’s Department for International Development needs to immediately coordinate with international donors to apply pressure on the government of Burma to lift restrictions on the delivery of aid to the victims of conflict, and to lift the internet ban,” said Anna Roberts, Executive Director of Burma Campaign UK.

The British government should also coordinate with other international donors to deliver an emergency package of aid to the victims of conflict, on the basis that they are among the most vulnerable people to COVID-19. Funding should be provided on the basis of meeting the basic food, shelter, medical and educational needs of refugees and IDPs, to increase their resilience, and then additional funding for education and equipment specifically for mitigating the impacts of COVID-19.

“Britain’s leadership is desperately needed,” said Anna Roberts. “IDPs and refugees were first victims of the military of Burma and then abandoned by their own government. We must do all we can to assist these most vulnerable people at this time of crisis.”

Burma Campaign UK is asking supporters to email Britain’s Department for International Development calling on them to take action. The action is available here.

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