31 December 2013 |

Myanmar: Internal displacement in brief

As of December 2013


Protracted armed conflict between ethnic non-state armed groups (NSAGs) and government forces has caused internal displacement in Myanmar for more than 50 years. Fighting in the south-eastern and eastern states of Kachin, Shan, Kayah, Kayin and Mon and the regions of Bago and Tanintharyi started in 1962. The conflict has eased in the south-east in recent years, and by the end of 2013 the government had concluded ceasefires with most NSAGs. A nationwide ceasefire accord is planned for 2014. That said, renewed conflict between NSAGs in Kachin and northern Shan states flared in 2011 and caused new displacement in 2013, as did inter-communal violence between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya and other Muslim minorities in Rakhine state. Violence between Buddhists and Muslims began in Rakhine state in 2012 and spread to other parts of the country in 2013.

As of the end of the year there were 640,900 IDPs in the country, according to UN agencies and the Border Consortium, an NGO. Three-quarters fled their homes because of conflict, 400,000 in the south-east and 96,500 in Kachin and northern Shan. The remainder, or 139,000 in Rakhine and 5,400 in central Myanmar, fled inter-communal violence. Disasters brought on by natural hazards, and forced evictions linked to land grabs have also caused displacement.

Inter-communal violence in Rakhine caused up to 18,000 new displacements in 2013. In Meiktila, Mandalay region, a dispute in March degenerated into mob violence that killed 44 people and displaced 12,900, most of them Muslims. Inter-communal violence elsewhere displaced another 1,600. Conflict between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and government forces newly displaced 21,500 people in Kachin and northern Shan. 400,000 people are living in protracted displacement in the south-east of the country.

More than 60 per cent of the country’s IDPs, all of those in the south-east and up to 30,000 in Rakhine, live in informal settlements or with host communities. This limits their access to essential assistance and protection, although UN and other international organisations have assisted some IDPs outside camps and a number of host families too.

IDPs faced significant security threats in 2013. In June, police in Rakhine reportedly shot and killed five Muslim IDPs in camps in Parein and Kyein Ni Pyin. In November, three Muslim IDPs and a local Rakhine woman were reportedly killed in Pauktaw. Local authorities in Rakhine restricted IDPs’ freedom of movement, limiting their employment options and access to food. IDPs in Mandalay suffered similar restrictions, and a lack of water and medicines. Protection concerns for IDPs in Kachin and northern Shan included landmines, human trafficking, gender-based violence, forced recruitment and lack of psychosocial and health care.

More than 7,400 IDPs in Mandalay had returned to their homes by the end of the year, and local authorities plan the return of those remaining in the region during 2014. In the south-east, more than 900 had returned to their homes by the end of 2013. There were no reports of returns in other areas, or of IDPs integrating locally or settling elsewhere in the country. Obstacles to durable solutions in the south-east include the ongoing presence of government forces and NSAGs, sporadic fighting, land grabs by private commercial companies and the presence of landmines. IDPs also lack access to land, tenure security, livelihoods and legal civil documentation, which in turn restricts their freedom of movement.

In May, ahead of cyclone Mahasen, the government temporarily evacuated almost 78,000 people including some IDPs previously displaced by violence in Rakhine and whose camps were in low-lying areas.

Myanmar does not have a national policy or legislation on IDPs’ protection. Efforts to end the violence in Rakhine and the conflict in Kachin and Shan have been unsuccessful and IDPs’ plight in those areas has deteriorated rather than improved.

Political reforms and increasing openness since 2010 have led to a significant increase in international humanitarian and development assistance, and the response to IDPs improved in some areas in 2013, but more needs to be done to respect IDPs’ right to consultation and participation in the planning and implementation of programmes intended to address their needs. The shelter, non-food-item and camp management cluster together with the Joint IDP Profiling Service carried out an assessment in camps in government-controlled areas of Kachin and northern Shan. In Rakhine, however, increasing anti-UN and NGO sentiment among the Rakhine Buddhist population forced organisations to interrupt their assistance.