UN Cannot Reach 25,000 Kachin Refugees

UN staff deliver food to Seng Mai Pa IDP camp near Mai Ja Yang on March 28. (Photo: WPN)

UN staff deliver food to Seng Mai Pa IDP camp near Mai Ja Yang on March 28. (Photo: WPN)

KACHIN STATE — Despite the best efforts of the United Nations and its various agencies in Burma, the world body’s relief operations are unable to reach more than one third of the estimated 65,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) uprooted in Kachin State.

Responding to a series of questions from The Irrawaddy, Aye Win, the UN’s chief information officer for Burma, revealed this week that his organization is very concerned about the plight of an estimated 25,000 IDPs in Kachin State who he says “have not been reached by regular UN supplies.”

Although reaching many of the temporary camps located in remote mountainous parts of the state’s east is logistically extremely difficult, local aid workers say that Burmese government hostility remains the primary reason why the UN is unable to access so many people in need.

Upon the completion a four-day visit to Burma last week, John Ging, director of operations for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), issued a public plea calling on the Burmese authorities to allow UN agencies greater access to IDPs in both Kachin and Arakan states.

In a statement released on Aug. 9, Ging contrasted the ongoing reforms which have taken place under President Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government with the humanitarian and political crises which are currently taking place in Burma’s far north and far west.

“On the one hand, we see significant progress resulting from the democratization, peace building and economic development processes, while on the other hand, conflict and communal tensions have the potential to undermine stability and generate significant humanitarian needs,” he said .

Ging’s stated concern for the plight of displaced Kachin families has been welcomed by local aid workers operating in rebel-controlled territory who have repeatedly warned that the major humanitarian crisis in the area could deteriorate drastically if displaced people are denied assistance.

From late March to June, teams from the UN’s World Food Program, UNOCHA , UNICEF and the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNCHR) made a series of visits to IDP camps around Mai Ja Yang—the second largest town controlled by the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO).

Yet the UN has not been able to visit any of the camps located at Laiza, the de facto capital of the KIO, which is home to the largest number of IDPs in the state. A small UN team did visit Laiza late last year but promised follow-up visits have yet to take place because of government restrictions.

UN operations in parts of Kachin State not controlled by the government have been significantly reduced since mid-June when six aid workers for the world body were arrested while performing relief work in western Burma’s Arakan State.

In addition, eight local staff members from other NGOs were arrested under similar circumstances. At least five of these are believed to be from Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF). All of those detained appear to be citizens of Burma.

Local Burmese staff working for the UN in Burma may not enjoy the same full diplomatic protection of their international colleagues yet should in theory still benefit from some security courtesy of various international treaties. During former junta chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe’s regime local UN staff were frequently detained under what were commonly accepted as trumped-up charges.

During a trip to Burma from July 30 to Aug. 4, UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Burma Tomás Ojea Quintana met with the six jailed UN workers. According to a statement released after his visit, the six are being held in Buthidaung Prison in Arakan State and the notorious Insein Prison in Rangoon.

“I am of the view that the charges against them are unfounded and that their due process rights have been denied,” said Quintana.

While both the names and ethnic background of the various jailed workers remain unknown, their plight remains a glaring example of the continued difficulties faced by the UN and other international organizations operating in Burma.

The aid workers arrest and detention also stands in sharp contrast to the optimistic statements emanating from various NGOs that entered Burma in the years following Cyclone Nargis which describe the new operating space that has opened.


5 Responses to UN Cannot Reach 25,000 Kachin Refugees

  1. I believed Kachin REFUGE were forgotten in international community. Especially from various Organization from Humanitarian assistance, including UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights for Burma Tomás Ojea Quintana .

    They have been forgotten at all . May be because , the Kachin ethnic were believed in Christian. If , they, the Kachin people were Muslim religious , the world will know quickly and all of the international community including United Nation will condemn Myanmar government with their strong action.

    As for Kachin ethnic, to get international community attention, they have to convert to Islam.

  2. UN must sponsor the peace talk and break the stall.
    These two warring factions badly need the Third Party to bring them together. Howlong UN and the International Power will stay idle (waiting until the whole Kachins have been wiped out???)

  3. Because UN is not serious enough for the Kachins. UN thiks it can successful works with Myanmar government and it feels pity about it. Actually, countless Kachins are still suffering needlessly under the current Thein Sein government. If the UN can successfully work for the Rohingyas but why can’t it work to reach these Kachins who suffer much more than the Rohingyas who just made up their own sufferings?

  4. A Burmese Freedom Fighter

    My heart completely goes out to our Kachin ethnics’ suffering and sacrifices in this prolonged – civil war, unfairly waged by succeeded regime of Burma. No Kachins deserve to be in this deplorable situations: as refugees within their own land or anywhere; Internally Displaced persons, and subjects of manipulation by Burmese Army.

    This is the time to question:
    Who is actual commander-in-chief of the whole country Burma?
    Since the president of Burma, U Thein Sein is the head of the state in the book, he is responsible for all these unfairness placed up on Kachin people.

    I started to doubt whether U Thein Sein really have any power over the commander in chief of Burmese armed forces over the war in Kachin state.

    I hope, in my life time, I will witness the overcoming of all these unbearable torments in victory of the fight for equal right, autonomy, and self determination under the federal system. As I am typing this, I do really feel sorry, angry, frustrated and dying for why, and how the hell on earth, the whole world is not giving more urgently needed-attention to ongoing war in Kachin State, rather than communal riots in Rakhine State.

    A Burmese Freedom Fighter

  5. UN in its main modern role of representing multinational companies and their agents (democratically elected after company-funded campaigns) has enthusiastically endorsed the current iteration of clothes-changed military government in the face of most atrocious shelling and killing of the whole populace.

    Now it says they cannot reach some of the displaced in atrocious jungle condition in the rain as if they care.

    Take some paracetamol.

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