YANGON – The Myanmar government will provide food supplies for internally displaced persons (IDPs) if requested, said U Zaw Htay, director-general of the State Counselor Office.
Leaders of IDP camps can contact the National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC) if they are short on food, he told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.
Refugee repatriation, rehabilitation and support is one of the issues the government and the ethnic armed organizations have included in their social sector discussions in ceasefire implementation.
“The State Counselor [Daw Aung San Suu Kyi] has already set out policies regarding IDPs. Our government will provide assistance in food, health and education and so on for them. They now receive aid from NGOs. If they are short [of food] because of cuts by NGOs, they should contact NRPC. NRPC will provide help,” said U Zaw Htay.
At present, about 150,000 IDPs from various camps in Kachin and northern Shan states still receive food supplies from the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP), but many of the supplies have been cut since 2016 and camps are therefore facing food shortages.
There are over 160 IDP camps in Kachin and northern Shan states, both in areas controlled by the government and armed ethnic groups, since citizens left their homes following the renewal of fighting between the government and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in June 2011, as well as active fighting with other armed groups in northern Shan state.
In addition, Myanmar has more than 110,000 IDPs in 24 townships in the southeast of the country, including in Karen, Karenni and Shan states, and nearly 100,000 refugees on the Thailand-Myanmar border because of the country’s 70-year civil war, according to the The Border Consortium.
Food support has been gradually drying up since the country’s peace process began.
Regarding Shan IDP camps on the Myanmar-Thai border which are facing food shortages, U Zaw Htay said said camp leaders can contact NRPC to get food for IDPs there.
“For IDPs inside our country, we can provide aid immediately. But for refugees [on the Thailand border], it is a little complicated as we have to talk with the Thai government,” said U Zaw Htay.
“CSOs (Civil Society Organizations) in Kachin are working in cooperation with Dr Win Myat Aye [Union minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement]. And IDP camps in Shan State can contact us if they also want to receive help,” he added.
If requests for food supplies are made to the government, the State Counselor and representatives of the Myanmar Army, Parliament and the government’s Peace Commission will discuss them at regular meetings of the NRPC. Concerned state governments and ministries will provide assistance according to the decisions of the meeting, said U Zaw Htay.
According to U Zaw Htay, the government will provide food to IDPs with funds from three sources—funds of the Union and concerned state governments, funds of the NRPC and funds of the Coordination Body for Peace Process Funding (JCB).
U Zaw Htay continued that food supplies could be requested from the government through these three channels. Leaders of IDP camps can submit the list of IDPs and details about the camp directly to the NPRC to request food supplies.
Ethnic signatories to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) can also ask for help through their peace talks, and CSOs helping IDP camps can seek assistance from the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement.
Saw Steve, the chairperson of the Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People (CIDKP), said he had not heard of such a plan yet from the current NLD government and this would be a new initiative. But he said under the then Myanmar Peace Centre, IDPs in Karen State had received the support mainly for rehabilitation, not relief, through the Japanese Nippon Foundation’s support for conflict-affected people.
“The support under the conflict-affected people was mainly for the IDPs as well as local villagers in the area. We have not had any experience before of the government directly providing support to the IDPs,” he said.
State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has coordinated with the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) for helping out the IDPs in Kachin and northern Shan State, following their meeting in Naypyitaw in July. The State Counselor instructed the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement to provide assistance in food, education, health and job opportunities to IDPs both in areas controlled by both the Union government and the KIA in Kachin State.
This month, the Thai border-based Shan State Refugee Committee (SSRC) said that six IDP camps along the Myanmar-Thai border which shelter over 6,200 people will run out of food starting this month. Those IDPs—who fled from their homes due to the fighting between the Restoration Council of Shan State and the Myanmar Military in late 1990s—are not recognized as refugee status by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee (UNHCR), although they receive international relief support.
A report released by the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) in August said aid to refugees along the Thailand Myanmar border should not be cut as fighting continues in Shan State. Two of the six camps—Loi Tai Laeng and Loi Kaw Wan—also had to move around in 2006 and 2009 respectively after the Thailand authorities accused them of crossing into their territory and told them to return to Myanmar.
Lung Sai Pieng, SSRC secretary who which oversees six IDP camps, told The Irrawaddy that as they are facing a food shortage, they want to receive support from the government and are hoping the government will assist the victims of civil war.
He told the Irrawaddy this week that the news that U Zaw Htay relayed about helping IDPs is new to him and they did not know about it before. “As we know now, we would discuss between our committee and would communicate with the government,” he said.