UNHCR Chief Urges Freedom of Movement in Rakhine

By Rik Glauert 7 July 2017

YANGON — The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi called for freedom of movement and access to services for displaced persons in Rakhine State at the end of his first visit to Myanmar that took place amid an uptick of violence in the region.

“These are complex issues, but they are not intractable,” said Grandi, according to a UN release, adding that efforts to increase citizenship verification and tackle poverty were also part of the solution.

The recommendations of the ex-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan-led Advisory Commission of Rakhine State, which include closing internally displaced people (IDP) camps and the return of refugees from Bangladesh, provide an important roadmap for the way forward, the UN representative said.

During his five-day trip, Grandi traveled to Yangon, Rakhine State’s Sittwe and Maungdaw Township, and capital Naypyitaw where he met State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the social welfare minister, the labor minister, and the border affairs minister, according to the release.

They discussed humanitarian access to camps in Kachin and Rakhine states where some 100,000 and 120,000 remain displaced, respectively.

The high commissioner commended the return of mainly ethnic Karen refugees from Thailand but said that repatriation must be “voluntary and sustainable.”

Earlier this week, Grandi’s delegation met with border police Brig-Gen Thura San Lwin in Maungdaw and visited villages that suffered from arson during Myanmar Army security clearance operations, as well as with residents of the Dapaing IDP camp.

One of the camp’s residents U Saw Lwin told The Irrawaddy on Monday that IDPs discussed with UN officials their lack of freedom of movement, education and healthcare after nearly five years in the camp. He said they still hoped to be compensated for assets destroyed during inter-communal riots in 2012.

On July 1, the State Counselor’s Office Information Committee released a statement from national security adviser U Thaung Tun that highlighted a recent increase in violence in the area, some of which stemmed from incidents between the Myanmar Army and suspected militants.

It stated that from October 2016 to June 2017, 38 civilians were killed in Maungdaw district and 22 villagers were abducted or went missing. Many of the victims were village administrative officials who had collaborated with the government, according to the statement.

“There has been a worrying increase in the number of murders and disappearances in recent weeks. In the past two weeks alone, six villagers have been killed and two have gone missing,” read the statement.

The government has provided more than US$1.96 million in humanitarian assistance to Rakhine State in the past year. Three IDP camps in Kyaukphyu, Pauktaw and Ramree townships have been closed in line with the recommendations of the Kofi Annan-led advisory commission; among them, 55 households have been relocated to Yangon.

Grandi has worked in refugee and political affairs in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. This is his first visit to Myanmar since he was appointed high commissioner in January 2016 and his trip will continue to Thailand and Bangladesh.

Additional reporting by Moe Myint.