Having suffered the civil war for 60 years, Myanmar has not seen a decrease in the number of internally displaced people (IDPs) or the refugees for half a century. Despite Myanmar government’s efforts to put an end to the sound of gun fire and end the armed conflicts once and for all, frequent bouts of battles with ethnic groups caused the increase in the number of war refugees. Moreover, natural disasters and communal violence have also contributed to the rise in the number of IDPs. Many IDP camps have been established along Myanmar-Thailand border, and in Shan, Kayin, Kachin and Taninthari regions. Refugee camps also emerged in Rakhine region and Meikhtila township due to the communal violence.
The war refugees
For the past ten years, the fighting between the government’s military and Karen National Union (KNU) created thousands of displaced refugees. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), there are over 632,000 IDPs including war refugees in Myanmar. The majority of them are the Karen ethnics from 36 townships in Kayin Region, who had to flee their homes long ago due to the battles in their areas. Although the fighting has subsided now, many uncertainties are ahead of them to return home and to earn living.
These years the number of war refugees is rising because of frequent armed conflicts with ethnic groups, especially in Kachin region. Myanmar Peace Monitor, a watchdog organization looking at the peace process in Myanmar, said in their 2013 report that the fighting between the military and Kachin Independence Army has displaced over 100,000 local people in Kachin State, and resulted in the emergence of new IDP camps both in the control area of Kachin Independence Organization and in that of the government such as Myitkyina and Waimaw townships. Certain news sources put the number of refugees at over 200,000. It is still vague for their return to home.
Similarly, warfare in Shan State gave rise to a number of the refugees in the area. In 2012, the government’s military fought with Taaung National Liberation Army_ the armed ethnic group of Palaung people. It caused an increase in the number of war refugees from over 2000 to 5000. The Palaung refugees are now living at the IDP camps in Mantong, Kutkhine, Tantyan, and Namtkham Townships in Shan State.
In the same year of 2012, the military troops also fought against the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army, Karenni National Progressive Party, Karen National Union and Democratic Karen Benevolent Army. Displaced people from the unrest areas fled towards the refugee camps in southern part of the country. According to the report of Myanmar Peace Monitor, the numbers of displaced people due to battles and other projects are 6700 in Shan State, 700 in Kayah State, 200 in Bago Region, 1600 in Kayin State, 200 in Mon State and 600 in Taninthari Region.
IDPs due to communal violence
Due to the communal violence in Rakhine State last year, the number of IDPs in the region has risen to beyond 180,000 now. According to a UNOCHA report published in 2012, the violence left over 70,000 people displaced during June and 30,000 more during October. New IDP camps popped up in Kyaukphyu, Kyauktaw, Minpya, Mrauk Oo, Myaypon, Pauktaw, Ranbyee, Yathetaung and Sittwe townships.
In March 2013, the religious violence in Meikhtila Township left over 4000 people displaced to 5 new refugee camps there. To say exactly, there are a total of 4204 IDPs, and 656 people are staying at Sasana Rakhita Refugee Camp, 191 at Oakpho Refugee Camp, 895 at District Sports Ground Refugee Camp, 1594 at Central Transport Department’s Refugee Camp, and 868 at Water Resources Department’s Refugee Camp.
Future of the IDPs
If the conflicts are resolved, peace prevails and necessary supports are provided, the displaced people will be relieved and slowly rehabilitated. It is a big challenge to adequately serve their basic needs and to create jobs for them.
A Kayin refugee seen at Maela refugee camp at the Thai-Myanmar border (Photo - Nay Htun Naing)
The future of refugees is still vague and it seems leading towards more uncertainties. The refugees along the Myanmar-Thailand border once possessed big dreams to escape to the third countries. However, when they learnt from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) about the third countries’ limited ability to accept more refugees, their dreams became distant. For them, it is also difficult to return their mother land and earn living because of infrastructural constraints. Besides, they can be exposed to the land-mine risks as the authorities are yet to clear land mines buried on the battle grounds during the war times. Therefore, the refugees who left Myanmar for some years have refused to go back home.
Meanwhile, Thai government, who had accepted Myanmar refugees in their territory, is now willing to deport them back to Myanmar. Nevertheless, UNHCR in Thailand met with the representatives of United Nationalities Federal Council_ an ethnic coalition group from Myanmar_ last July. They discussed the refugee issue, and reached an agreement not to force them to return to Myanmar. Therefore, the IDP camps are still allowed to exist on the Myanmar-Thailand border.
As long as there are armed conflicts, the number of displaced refugees will continue to grow in Myanmar.