YANGON — The Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement has announced a plan to close camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees in four states.
“If camps are open for too long, this may hinder the social and educational development of those staying at camps as well as their livelihoods. Our reason is that simple,” Union minister for social welfare, relief and resettlement Dr. Win Myat Aye told The Irrawaddy.
The ministry is designing a national strategic plan to close IDP camps in Rakhine, Kachin, Shan and Karen states where more than 160,000 IDPs are taking shelter. It will start closing those camps after the national strategic plan is adopted.
The committee to assist IDPs under the Central Committee for Implementation of Peace and Development in Rakhine State has been assisting with resettling IDPs in Rakhine State since May 2016, according to the minister.
“We won’t close all of the camps once and for all. We’ll try to close the camps in Rakhine State that have been opened since 2012. But for camps in Kachin, Shan and Karen states, we will start the resettlement when stability is restored and safety can be guaranteed for local people,” said the minister.
The ministry has also considered the livelihoods of IDPs beyond the closure of camps, he said. The strategic plan will include vocational training for them and creating job opportunities so that they can earn a livelihood.
The ministry announced the plan on Saturday during a workshop with UN delegates. The Union minister lamented the plight of those in IDP camps – relying on food supplies, without any livelihood, and with limited access to healthcare and legal protections.
Meanwhile, children have also lost access to education and women are vulnerable to sexual abuse and trafficking, he said.
The strategy will be devised depending on the results of the workshop and it will not take long to formulate it, the minister added.
However, local civil society organizations providing humanitarian assistance in Kachin, Shan and Karen states were not invited to the workshop.
The Joint Strategy Team (JST), a network of nine civil society organizations helping IDPs in Kachin and northern Shan State, did not even know about the workshop.
“We didn’t know about it. Later we saw reports of it on social media,” said Gam Sha Awng of JST.
The government must consult with all stakeholders to ensure the safe and dignified return of IDPs in Kachin and northern Shan State where clashes are ongoing, he said.
According to a number of camp organizers in Kachin and northern Shan State interviewed by The Irrawaddy, IDPs want to get back their homes and farmland, and they want a guarantee from the government that they will not need to flee again because of renewed clashes.
There are more than 100,000 IDPs in Kachin and northern Shan State, and the Kachin Baptist Convention, after consulting with State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, made a list of IDPs for their return to homes in relatively stable areas in 2017. But the plan was aborted as the Tatmadaw, or Myanmar Army, did not agree.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.