Under pressure from the Chinese authorities, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) says it has agreed to take back about 4,000 Kachin refugees who are currently staying in southwestern China’s Yunnan Province.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Monday, Samang Kada Doi Pyi Sa, the chairman of the IDPs and Refugees Relief Committee (IRRC), said that his team will start bringing all of the refugees back to KIO territory tomorrow.
“Our people are suffering both physically and mentally, because they have to come back even though they don’t want to,” he said, adding that China has been pressuring the KIO to repatriate the refugees since July.
Those brought back from Yunnan Province will resettle at the Lana refugee camp, located near Loi Je, about 16 km from the Chinese border. The camp belongs to the KIO, which began building shelters there in July after they held the first round of talks with the Chinese authorities to discuss the resettlement.
“We have already told the people who are in Yunnan that they will have to come back to our land. We told them that if they don’t want to come back, they’re on their own, because we can’t help them if they stay,” said Samang Kada Doi Pyi Sa.
He added that the KIO asked the Chinese to allow them to delay the move until the weather improves, but they were told to bring the refugees back as soon as possible. “We wanted [the refugees] to stay a little longer because it’s the rainy season, but we were told to move them right away,” he said.
Fighting in Kachin State has displaced about 65,000 people, most of whom have remained inside Burma. Despite several rounds of peace talks, the conflict, which began last June, remains unresolved.
Human Rights Watch reported in June that the Chinese authorities were pressuring the refugees to return. The report said that forcing the refugees to return would put them at great risk and created a pervasive fear of forced return among the Kachin refugees who remain in Yunnan.
The refugees said that they had received no humanitarian assistance from the Chinese government and major humanitarian agencies have had no access to them since they began arriving in June 2011.
China is a party to the 1951 Refugee Conventions and its 1967 Protocol as well as other international human rights treaties that provide protections for refugees and asylum seekers.
However, China has no law or procedure for determining refugee status and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has not been given access to conduct refugee status determinations; under international law, the lack of a formal recognition mechanism does not negate the fact that someone is a refugee.
IRRC reported that the refugees mainly need food and medical assistance, as the KIO has provided them with shelters already. The UN aid agencies are only able to reach some refugee camps.
The conflict in Kachin State remains unlikely to end any time soon, as the government has ignored a key KIO demand—the withdrawal of troops from KIO territory. With government troops continuing to close in on the KIO stronghold of Laiza, the group has rejected calls for further peace talks.