Kachin State Conflict Increases Human Trafficking to China: Report

By Saw Yan Naing 6 June 2013

The Burmese government’s offensive against Kachin rebels in northern Burma has greatly increased the risk of human trafficking along the Sino-Burmese border, according to a Kachin rights advocacy group.

In its new report, titled “Pushed to the Brink” and launched at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand in Bangkok, the Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT) said that more than 100,000 displaced Kachin refugees lack refugee protections and face shortages of humanitarian aid. Such hardships are helping to fuel the trafficking of children and women to China.

Julia Marip, an advocate for the ethnic Kachin and spokeswoman for KWAT, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that in the two years since a ceasefire broke down between the government and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), about 66,000 people have been displaced in KIO-controlled areas alone.

With humanitarian aid to the region being withheld or blocked by Burmese authorities, refugees including children and women have been forced into labor on the Sino-Burmese border, with some even crossing into China in search of work.

“Many children who should be in schools have to labor for their daily survival. They go to work in China with the help of their respective contacts. They then are cheated and trafficked into China,” Marip said.

She also said the government has barred an aid delivery by a Japanese charity group, the Nippon Foundation, which had planned to distribute aid to war-torn KIO-controlled regions in March of this year.

The KWAT uncovered 24 cases of actual or suspected human trafficking in Kachin border areas since the resumption of hostilities between the government army and troops from the KIO’s militant wing, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), in June 2011.

Young women and girls displaced by the war constitute the highest percentage of victims. The victims were tricked, drugged, raped and sold to Chinese men or families as brides or bonded laborers for as much as 40,000 yuan (US$6,500) per person, according to the KWAT report.

The report said some of the trafficked girls and women ended up as far east as Shandong and Fujian provinces. Denied refugee status in China, lacking aid in crowded camps along the border and desperate to earn an income, the displaced refugees cross the border without proper documents, making them vulnerable to traffickers.

“Push tens of thousands of people to China’s doorstep, deprive them of food and status, and you’ve created a perfect storm for human trafficking,” Marip said.

One day after peace talks between KIO leaders and the government peace delegation in the Kachin State capital of Myitkyina last week, President’s Office Minister Aung Min, who is Naypyidaw’s chief peace negotiator, said internally displaced people (IDPs) in Kachin State could soon return home.

After the talks, the government peace team and KIO leaders also signed a seven-point document in which both sides agreed to “undertake efforts to achieve de-escalation and cessation of hostilities” and to “continue discussions on military matters related to repositioning of troops.”

Despite several rounds of talks between the KIO and the government delegation, the two parties have not yet reached a ceasefire agreement. Kachin refugees remain in temporary shelters, unable or unwilling to return home.

The KWAT also urged the international community to provide urgently needed humanitarian aid to displaced Kachin, and pressured the Burmese government to start making political concessions with an aim toward ending the conflict.

The KWAT was also strongly critical of the US government’s decision to raise Burma from its bottom-level ranking in its 2012 Trafficking in Persons report. The Burmese government’s “anti-trafficking task forces” are non-operational on the Kachin State-China border, the report said.