Washington D.C based Refugees International (RI) last week became the third international organization since October to raise concerns about the dire situation facing Kachin refugees on the Sino Burmese border.
Speaking at a press conference in Bangkok last Friday RI’s South East Asia advocate Lynn Yoshikawa, warned that a major humanitarian crisis loomed if aid agencies continued to be blocked from accessing refugees located in territory controlled by the Kachin Independence Organization.
Yoshikawa who recently visited both Rangoon and the Kachin State capital of Myitkyina, said her organization "is really worried over the security of the internally displaced persons, thousands of those are living in insufficient camps in KIO controlled areas where the sanctuaries are sandwiched between the Tatmadaw (Burmese army) and the KIO positions.”
Yoshikawa said that RI has found evidence that human rights abuses had been committed by the Burmese army against civilians in Kachin state during its offensive against KIO forces. Recently two respected human rights groups, Physicians for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch issued detailed reports accusing the Burmese of using civilians as human mine sweepers and committing summary executions in Kachin state since the 17 year ceasefire between the KIO and the Burmese army ended this past June.
While noting that some progress had been made in Burma in over the last year, Yoshikawa cautioned that developments in the Kachin conflict areas were moving in the opposite direction. Yoshikawa told the audience at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand “we don't want the Kachin situation to stop the reforms that are happening at the centre, but at the same time, we can't let tens of thousands of internally displaced people to suffer because it doesn't fit into the international narrative."
RI: Donors afraid to go where UN won’t
While local aid groups and refugee advocates estimate that there are currently more than 30,000 Kachin refugees trapped on the China Burma border, few international aid groups have sent aid to these refugees, this despite their increasingly dire situation. Yoshikawa was quoted by German press agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur explaining that "donors have been reluctant to fund the cross-border assistance because of the lack of UN presence in the area".
While the UN says it is monitoring the situation on the border, it remains unclear if the UN and its related humanitarian agencies will ever get access to these areas.
In a report released October 19 the UN’s Special Rapporteur on human rights in Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana suggested that Burma’s government had recently refused an offer from the UN to assist refugees trapped on the Kachin side of China’s border with Burma.
Quintana wrote that the UN “approached the government, offering assistance to all those in need. According to reliable sources, the government’s position is that assistance is currently provided at the local level, and when needed they will seek further assistance from relevant partners.”