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Kachin refugees in China lack supplies

Up to 10,000 people have fled into Yunnan province in the past year

An ethnic Kachin woman and her child living in a temporary shelter, Yunnan province, China An ethnic Kachin woman and her child living in a temporary shelter, Yunnan province, China
  • John Zaw, Bangkok
  • Myanmar
  • June 26, 2012
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Thousands of Kachin refugees from Myanmar who fled to China face a lack of essential humanitarian aid and are at grave risk, New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a report issued today.

Fighting between Myanmar government forces and Kachin opposition forces continues, and has forced up to 10,000 Kachin people to cross the Chinese border into Yunnan province, according to the report, titled “Isolated in Yunnan: Kachin Refugees from Burma in China’s Yunnan Province.”

Refugees have no proper shelters, no clean water, no medication for emergencies, and no warm clothing, said Father Aung Dan, director of Karuna Banmaw Social Service in Kachin State. In addition, the wet season is affecting refugees in both Kachin State and China.

“The Chinese government doesn’t give support to the refugees,” he said. “Karuna and private donors have played the major role in humanitarian assistance, and we have only sufficient funds until the end of this month.”

HRW is urging concerned governments to support local organizations that are providing aid to the refugee population and to press Chinese authorities into providing unfettered access to the refugees.

“The Chinese government has generally tolerated Kachin refugees staying in Yunnan, but now needs to meet its international legal obligations to ensure refugees are not returned and that their basic needs are met,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, in a press statement.

“China has no legitimate reason to push them back to Myanmar or to leave them without food and shelter.”

The organization estimates between 7,000 and 10,000 ethnic Kachin have sought refuge in southwestern China since June 2011, when hostilities broke out in northern Myanmar between government forces and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) near a Chinese-led hydropower dam in Kachin State.

The fighting ended a 17-year ceasefire agreement and led to the displacement of an estimated 75,000 Kachin to China or elsewhere in Myanmar.

“Kachin refugees are in dire need of food, medical care and proper shelter,” said Bauk Ja, an ethnic Kachin and a candidate from the National Democratic Force (NDF) Party in Hpa-kant constituency in Kachin State, during a press conference in Bangkok last week.

Peace talks between the government and the KIA have not resolved the conflict and fighting continues, she said.

“Ethnic leaders must also play a key role in Myanmar as Aung San Suu Kyi, democracy icon of the international community, can’t solve all the problems in the country by herself, especially in ethnic regions,” Bauk Ja said.

There are educated ethnic leaders in the country and only those leaders can address the issues in their regions, so the international community needs to highlight the role of ethnic leaders in Myanmar reforms, she said.

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