Special to Myanmar Eleven January 5, 2015 1:00 am
More action is needed to deal with internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Myanmar, particularly in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan states, said the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
In its updated operations profile for 2015, the UNHCR said fresh displacement was witnessed in 2014, with continued clashes between the Myanmar national army and non-state groups in Kachin and northern Shan states.
A crucial source in humanitarian aid to the people, the agency noted that significant numbers of IDPs in Kachin and Rakhine states continue to live in camp settings.
In the coming year, the agency will focus its attention on people without citizenship, IDPs, refugees, returnees and host communities.
In 2012, violence in Rakhine State forced around 140,000 people to flee their homes. The majority live in government-designated IDP camps near the state capital, Sittwe, and in surrounding townships.
In Kachin State and northern Shan State, more than 100,000 IDPs are displaced and in need of continued humanitarian assistance. They are living in camps in both government-controlled areas and those under the control of non-state actors.
In Rakhine State, space in IDP camps is severely limited, and efforts to provide basic relief services have met severe challenges. The situation for most IDPs deteriorated in 2014, particularly in the areas of health coverage and non-food items distribution. The premises and warehouses of the UN and many other international NGOs were attacked and ransacked in early 2014.
"The inter-agency response in Rakhine State has repeatedly emphasised the need for durable solutions for IDPs. At present, there is a continued policy by the government to physically separate the conflicting communities, which limits reconciliation efforts and space for supporting coexistence," the agency noted.
Rakhine State is home to a large Muslim community. Tensions between Buddhist and Muslim communities have affected hundreds of thousands of families since violence between the two erupted in 2012.
Meanwhile, more than 100,000 IDPs live in Kachin State and northern Shan State. The UNHCR has seen the budget for its operations rise since 2012, when a ceasefire between the Myanmar army and the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) broke down.
"Continued clashes between the Myanmar national army and non-state actors in Kachin and northern Shan states in 2014 led to more displacement and a need for an emergency response. The inter-agency response relies on permission from the Myanmar government to access IDPs in areas under the control of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO). As a result, only ad hoc missions are undertaken to these areas, limiting the response," the agency said.
It added that protection activities would continue for both Kachin and Rakhine states this year, depending on the conditions of the operational areas, particularly the level of access.
The agency is now working on sending refugees back to Myanmar.
"In the southeast of Myanmar, UNHCR continues to perform return monitoring to identify the destination of refugees settling back in Myanmar. The aim is to build a profile of areas where interventions can be planned if the scale of returns increases, enabling the Office to respond once spontaneous returns increase. Planning for return is ongoing, including consultations with Myanmar refugees on the Thai border," the UNHCR said.
Residents of Kayin State fled to the Myanmar-Thailand border and overseas due to clashes between the Myanmar government troops and the Karen National Union (KNU). At present, there are about 100,000 refugees. Most of them live in any of the nine refugee camps along the Myanmar-Thailand border built by the UN and INGOs.
"We have to clear land for their living, and the relocation process will go forward only if the programmes to support them are planned. There are civic and social organisations involved, but we still need to include organisations related with the army," said Pahdo Saw Hla Tun, a central committee member of KNU.
Following the military coup in Thailand, there was a move to repatriate up to 120,000 Myanmar refugees living in temporary camps in Thailand. Many of the refugees have been in the camps for years, and an entire younger generation was born and raised in them.
General Prayuth Chan-o-cha, chief of Thailand's National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), said that returning the refugees was one of the issues discussed during his meeting with Myanmar Armed Forces chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing on July 4 in Bangkok.
The UNHCR noted that increased interest among refugees in returning to Myanmar requires budget estimates that cover potential activities, should conditions be deemed conducive.
"Significant financial support may be needed in 2015 to support shelter repair and maintenance in Rakhine and Kachin states. Given the above, the 2015 budget for Myanmar is set at US$67.8 million," the agency said.
The agency is planning support for around 20,000 potential returnees in 2015, although conditions are not yet sufficient to support any organised voluntary return.
Planning figures in 2015
Returnee arrivals (ex-refugees) /Myanmar/10,050/40,500
People in IDP-like situations/Myanmar/35,000/35,000
Returnee arrivals (ex-IDPs)/Myanmar/55,000/78,000