The Burmese government began on Monday to issue national identity cards to ethnic Karen internally displaced persons (IDPs) who until now have not had the opportunity to obtain such IDs due to displacement and decades of civil war.
The move marks the first time the Burmese government has granted ID cards to Karen war refugees who were in the past targeted by government troops and thousands subjected to violent attacks, murder, torture, rape and forced labor.
On Monday a group of more than 30 Karen IDPs in Kyaukkyi town in Pegu Division were given ID cards at a ceremony attended by Burmese officials, including Minister of Immigration Khin Yi, as well as a leading Karen National Union (KNU) leader, Saw Tu Tu Lay, and Norway’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Torgeir Larsen.
The Norwegian government is funding US $5 million toward the peace process in eastern Burma, including needs assessments aimed at resettling IDPs—part of a project conducted by its Norwegian Initiative.
Saw Htoo Klei, the secretary of the Karen Office of Relief and Development (KORD), which provides assistance to the IDPs in KNU-controlled areas, said that the move seems positive, but added that more needs to be done for the IDPs.
“Issuing ID cards to IDPs is not enough,” Htoo Klei told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday. “There must be safe living, traveling and aworking conditions for the IDPs.
“It is important to ensure the IDPs’ long-term peace and freedom,” he said.
With the cooperation of the Burmese government, the KNU and various Karen relief groups, the Norwegian government said it also plans to expand its financial and technical assistance to the peace process, including funding mine clearance projects in KNU-controlled areas.
The ceremony in Kyaukkyi was the first in a project that could encompass hundreds of thousands of IDPs in eastern Burma, and which was agreed following the ceasefire agreement which was signed between the Burmese government and the KNU on Jan. 12 this year.
Norway’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs is scheduled to meet with leaders of the KNU during his visit to Thailand this week. He will also brief humanitarian agencies, NGOs working on Burma, and CBOs about Norway’s further role in Burma in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, on Wednesday.