The Burmese government’s decision to allow UN teams into rebel-controlled territory in Kachin state is promising, but unless pressure from international aid groups is ratcheted up, tens of thousands of refugees will continue to struggle for basic support, Human Rights Watch has warned.
The admittance of the UN to the town of Laiza, where some of the 50,000 people estimated by HRW to have been displaced since fighting began in June have fled to, came after months of negotiations. The government had initially blocked international aid to refugees in Kachin Independence Army (KIA) areas, but recent weeks have seen tentative signs of an opening.
Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at the New York-based group, said in a statement today that the early steps need to be developed into “long-term commitment from the government and foreign donors alike.
“The government and Kachin forces should ensure that the tens of thousands of displaced people in remote camps get the food and shelter they need.”
A number of local aid groups working close to conflict zones in Kachin state, which borders China, say supplies for refugees are running low. HRW contacts in the region said that children and pregnant women were in danger of malnutrition. “The sources also expressed concerns about the physical security of the camps and the camp communities, particularly those located nearer conflict areas,” it said.
“In recent weeks, local relief efforts reported dwindling supplies and limited capacity, compounded by an absence of direct international aid and support.”
Earlier this month the government-formed National Human Rights Commission warned in a letter published in the state-run New Light of Myanmar that thousands of children had been deeply affected by the fighting.
“The children appear to be suffering from psychological trauma and the adults seem to experience a sense of insecurity and diminished confidence,” the letter said. “From individual interviews, it was evident that almost all wanted to return to their own villages.”
The likelihood of that happening anytime soon appears slim – despite an order from President Thein Sein that Burmese troops end offensives against the Kachin, fighting is reportedly ongoing.
The KIA announced yesterday however that it had been approached by the government over the resumption of ceasefire talks. Past stabs at peace-building have not met with success, but a new committee formed by the government is tasked with dealing specifically with the Kachin conflict, now in its sixth month.