RANGOON — Nine NGOs providing humanitarian support for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kachin and northern Shan states say limited funding and uncertainty over when—or even if ever—the displaced will have an opportunity to return home are still among the biggest challenges facing aid groups.
At a press conference in Rangoon on Friday, relief workers laid out the difficulties in ensuring that displaced populations in northern Burma are adequately provided for. A total of 120,000 IDPs are living in camps in both government- and ethnic Kachin rebel-controlled territories. Some have been displaced since fighting between the government and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) resumed in June 2011.
Despite peace talks aimed at reestablishing a ceasefire, the aid workers stressed that ongoing clashes, the presence of landmines and general uncertainty about the region’s future made return impossible for the IDPs at present.
“The humanitarian assistance should continue in the IDPs camps until a safe return and resettlement takes place. This aid should be duly funded in order to guarantee the fulfilment of minimum humanitarian standards,” said the nine groups, who have formed a Joint Strategy Team to more effectively coordinate aid.
Mary Tawn, the director of the Kachin aid group Wunpawng Ninghtoi (WPN), presented details of the team’s humanitarian response, including information on food provisions and initiatives on hygiene, education and health care.
She stressed that it was important for humanitarian aid to continue flowing into the region, with groups only able to meet the total needs of 39 percent of the approximately 90,000 IDPs in territory controlled by the KIA.
Gum Sha Aung, the national humanitarian coordinator of the Metta Development Foundation, said ensuring the IDPs’ rights in any future return program would need to be part of current peace talks, as would greater women’s participation.
“The IDPs need to be directly involved in any discussion about return and resettlement, which ensures that they are fully informed of their rights and options,” the Joint Strategy Team said.
Myint Myint Ohn Khin, Burma’s minister for social welfare, relief and resettlement, also gave remarks at Friday’s press conference.
“I want to encourage the local and national groups, who are collaborating in the humanitarian sector, to work without bias and to follow the basic principles of international humanitarian aid, such as impartiality, neutrality, independence, transparency and accountability,” she said.
The minister urged greater cooperation between local NGOs and international aid groups working with IDPs in Kachin and northern Shan states.
“It is great to see the local NGOs and CSOs [civil society organizations] advocating for the rights of their people and engaging the international community on how best they can deliver humanitarian responses with respect to the local context,” said an INGO participant, one of more than 100 aid workers from local and international organizations that attended the press conference on Friday.
The aid groups said 88,898 IDPs are sheltering at 148 camps in areas controlled by the Kachin rebel armed group and administered by its political wing, the Kachin Independence Organization. A total of US$35 million has been spent on humanitarian aid in these camps from June 2011 through May 2014.
“I will continue collaborating with the related ministries, state governments, UN agencies, and national and international NGOs on humanitarian support, until their socioeconomic lives are improved after a genuine peace prevails in Kachin and northern Shan States,” said Myint Myint Ohn Khin, who is also a chairwoman of the Myanmar Women’s Affairs Committee and the National Child Rights Committee.
“The local CSOs’ participation is a great support for us and I want to add that all of your cooperation is welcomed,” the minister added.