Unable to Return and Unable to Stay

June 29th, 2020  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  8 minute read
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“I want to go back to my village. There is no freedom in the IDP camp and I am not happy living here.”

IDP from Jam Mai Kawng Saint Paul RC IDP camp

As many in Myanmar[1] observed on World Refugee Day on 20 June, 2020, much of the focus is placed on the struggles of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees uprooted by decades-long civil war. Additionally, civil society organizations reflected on Myanmar’s faltering transition towards democracy, which has been marred by humanitarian crises, ongoing armed conflict and grave violations of human rights, suffered especially by ethnic and religious minorities.

This year’s World Refugee Day observation runs parallel with other important commemorations in Myanmar. The Committee for Shan State Unity recently designated June 16 as Shan Human Rights Day in commemoration of the Hsai Khoa and Tad Fa Ho massacres, which resulted in fifty-six people being arrested and executed by the Myanmar military in two locations in southern Shan State in 1997. Civilians were forced to flee ‘clearance operations’ by the Myanmar military between 1996-1998, rendering some 400,000 internally displaced or fleeing to the Thailand border. Perpetrators of the massacres, and other acts during the ‘clearance operations’, including rape, torture and killings of hundreds of civilians, continue to enjoy impunity. Over 100 villages in southern Kunhing remain deserted, their former inhabitants unable to return due to fears of becoming caught in conflict or displaced again. In some instances, residents are unable to return home due to land confiscation by the Myanmar military, which uses the land for military camps and some areas of land have since become uninhabitable due to flooding as a result of the Mong Ton and Tar San dams.

In addition, 9 June, 2020, marked the nine year commemoration of the resumption of civil war in northern Kachin State, caused by the Myanmar military breaking its ceasefire with the Kachin Independence Army. The Kachin National Consultative Assembly used the anniversary to call upon both parties to withdraw their forces and for the elimination of landmines around villages and IDP camps. Since 2011, there have been 120,000 civilians displaced in Kachin and northern Shan States. Conditions for IDPs within these camps are distressing, with overcrowding, limited water supply, unsanitary and unhygienic facilities, and rudimentary healthcare services. As a result of this, IDPs are among the most susceptible to contracting Covid-19, given camp conditions and difficulties in managing social distancing and hygiene practices. One IDP from Jam Mai Kawng Saint Paul RC IDP camp says “I want to go back to my village. There is no freedom in the IDP camp and I am not happy living here.”

Of additional concern is the situation of over 900,000 Rohingyas living in refugee camps in Bangladesh, some of whom have risked starvation and unsanitary conditions by taking a treacherous journey by boat to Malaysia. On 8 June, 269 Rohingyas seeking refuge by boat in Malaysia were arrested and refused entry, authorities citing Covid-19 as the reason for the pushback. Also, there is growing concern regarding anti-Rohingya sentiment directed toward undocumented migrant workers, asylum seekers and refugees entering Malaysia. Another 94 Rohingyas were recently assisted by local fishermen and the Indonesian coast guard to safety after their boat was found drifting off the coast of Sumatra between Indonesia and Malaysia, with authorities agreeing to provide temporary shelter for those rescued.

While the Myanmar military has announced a suspension of their military operations across some sections of the country due to Covid-19 until 31 August 2020 – an announcement that notably excluded the government declared “terrorist organization” which inevitably meant conflict will continue to rage on in Rakhine and Chin States. In Rakhine and Chin States, 150,000 vulnerable civilians remain displaced due to fighting between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army. Even in spite of continued conflict, the Ministry of Social Welfare Relief and Resettlement persists with the National IDP Camp Closure Strategy in Karen, Kachin, Shan and Rakhine States without meaningful consultation with IDPs, local communities and civil society.

Muslim minority Kaman IDPs in Kyaukphyu, Rakhine State, have been told by the government that they will be resettled on confiscated and flood-prone farmland as part of a resettlement plan. Kaman were displaced during sectarian violence in 2012, and are barred from returning to their homes and threatened with legal action if they do not comply with the resettlement plan. Overall, there has been no meaningful and comprehensive consultation with IDPs regarding the resettlement plan, which runs counter to the UN Pinheiro Principles, ensuring housing, land and property restitution for refugees and IDPs, and protects against displaced persons being arbitrarily deprived of their homes. There are also concerns over the ability of IDPs to seek food, medicine and a livelihood once resettled, given the conditions of resettlement and their current reliance on food assistance from international organizations. Similarly, an estimated 100,000 refugees living in nine refugee camps along the Thailand-Myanmar border are facing a sharp decrease in humanitarian aid, with lack of livelihood opportunities, leaving refugees with the unbearable choice of staying without a secure future at the camp or returning to Myanmar, despite the risk of persecution, discrimination and disenfranchisement of livelihood and education opportunities.

Until the root causes of widespread displacement across all ethnic regions are recognized and addressed officially and seriously within the peace process, the situation of IDPs and refugees will remain dire. Refugees and IDPs must be meaningfully included in all decision-making processes that affect them, including any proposed resettlement, repatriation or return. On World Refugee Day, 123 diverse civil society organizations issued a statement calling on the Myanmar government to immediately end the ongoing armed conflict, human rights violations and humanitarian crises in ethnic areas and for the establishment of a genuine federal democracy that protects and respects the rights of all people from Myanmar. As the statement affirms, “Refugees and IDPs have been driven out of their homes and their rights and livelihood deprived but let us be clear that they have hopes and dreams. They yearn for security and a better future.” For this, it is vital that the international community urge the Myanmar government to make concerted efforts and take concrete steps with sincere political will towards a genuine peace process that addresses the root causes of the decades-long suffering of ethnic and religious minorities and brings an end to the impunity enjoyed by the Myanmar military.


[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


Statements and Press Releases

Open Letter to the President and the State Counsellor of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar Regarding the Internet Shutdown in Seven Townships of Rakhine State and Paletwa Township of Chin State

By 3 Arakan Political Parties, 71 Civil Society Organizations, 3 Media Agencies and 2 Individuals

Joint Letter to ICJ: Myanmar’s Obligation to Comply with the Provisional Measures

By 30 Organizations

Civil society marks 1-year of world’s longest internet shutdown

By 110 Organizations and 5 Individuals

ကမ္ဘာ့ဒုက္ခသည်များနေ့တွင် မြန်မာနိုင်ငံရှိ ယခုဖြစ်ပွားနေသော ပဋိပက္ခ၊ လူ့အခွင့်အရေးချိုးဖောက်မှုများနှင့် လူသားချင်းစာနာထောက်ထားမှုဆိုင်ရာ အကျပ်အတည်းများကို အဆုံးသတ်ရန် တောင်းဆိုခြင်း

By 123 Civil Society Organizations

On World Refugee Day, end the ongoing armed conflict, human rights violations and humanitarian crises in Myanmar

By 123 Civil Society Organizations

ASEAN Must Ensure Protection for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in the Region

By Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network, FORUM-ASIA and Progressive Voice

Burma – Lift The World Longest Internet Ban In Rakhine and Chin State

By Burma Human Rights Network

EBN Welcomes Prospect of Continued Argentinian Investigation into Atrocity Crimes against the Rohingya

By European Burma Network

Kirin Should Cut Ties to Military: Japan Beverage Giant Pledges to Address Human Rights Concerns

By Human Rights Watch

မြန်မာစစ်တပ်အတွင်း စနစ်တကျ ဖြစ်ပွားနေသော အကျိုးစီးပွားပဋိပက္ခနှင့် ဆိုးရွားသော အကျင့်ပျက်ခြစားမှု

By Justice For Myanmar

Systemic Conflict of Interest in Myanmar Military Allows for Serious Corruption

By Justice For Myanmar

The Karen Women’s Organization Calls for Solidarity and Durable Solutions on World Refugee Day

By Karen Women’s Organization

International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict (June 19th 2020)

By Karen Human Rights Group

Still Waiting for Justice: Remembering the Hsai Khao and Tad Fa Ho Massacres

By Shan Community Groups

တရားမျှတမှုအတွက် မျှော်လင့်နေဆဲဖြစ်သည့် သျှမ်းပြည်တောင်ပိုင်း နမ့်ပန်မြစ်၀ှမ်း ဆိုင်းခေါ၀် နှင့် တတ်ဖှါ့ဟို့ တွင် ကျေးလက်လူထု အစုလိုက်အပြုံလိုက် သတ်ဖြတ်ခံရမှုအောင့်မေ့ဖွယ်နေ့ရက်

By Shan Community Groups

Salween Peace Park Wins 2020 Equator Prize

By Salween Peace Park



ဗိုင်းရပ်စ် စစ်ဆင်ရေး – မြန်မာစစ်တပ်သည် ကရင်လူထု၏ COVID-19 ကာကွယ်တားဆီးမှုများကို ဖျက်ဆီးလိုက်သည်

By Karen Peace Support Network

Virus Warfare: Burma Army Destruction of Karen Community Defenses Against COVID-19

By Karen Peace Support Network

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.”