UNHCR chief ap­peals to Myan­mar gov­ern­ment to help IDPs, refugees

The United Na­tions High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees Mr. Fil­lippo Grandi vis­ited Myan­mar last week to as­sess the on­go­ing sit­u­a­tion of refugees and dis­placed peo­ple. In an in­ter­view in Yan­gon with Mizzima Ed­i­tor in Chief Soe Myint, Mr Grandi dis­cussed the UNH

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This is your first visit to Myan­mar as the High Com­mis­sioner. My un­der­stand­ing is you vis­ited Maung­daw, you vis­ited IDPs in Sit­twe, you also had a wide range of dis­cus­sions in­clud­ing with the gov­ern­ment, in­clud­ing with the State Coun­sel­lor. Can you tell us the kind of dis­cus­sions you had with the gov­ern­ment and other stake­hold­ers in Myan­mar?

The main fo­cus of the dis­cus­sion was on how to iden­tify so­lu­tions to dif­fer­ent prob­lems that af­fect peo­ple in dif­fer­ent ways in parts of the coun­try, which are of con­cern to my or­ga­ni­za­tion, for ex­am­ple dis­place­ment in Sit­twe or in Kachin. For ex­am­ple re­turn of refugees from Thai­land. For ex­am­ple the prob­lem of the Mus­lim mi­nor­ity in the Rakhine State, many of whom have left the coun­try and have gone abroad, some of whom are dis­placed in­ter­nally.

So we ex­am­ine this sit­u­a­tion in a very bal­anced man­ner, in a very con­struc­tive man­ner. We had a dis­cus­sion on how to move for­ward, and, like I said, en­sure that peo­ple en­joy their rights but also we find so­lu­tions to th­ese dif­fer­ent prob­lems.

I am sure Myan­mar makes the UNHCR busy with all the chal­lenges. What would you say are your pri­or­i­ties for Myan­mar?

Well from the per­spec­tive of my or­ga­ni­za­tion the pri­or­ity would be cer­tainly to find a so­lu­tion for the al­most half a mil­lion peo­ple from Myan­mar that are refugees in other coun­tries – Bangladesh, Thai­land, Malaysia and other coun­tries in the re­gion.

Of course so­lu­tions, in par­tic­u­lar peace­ful, vol­un­tary, sus­tain­able re­turn of refugees to Myan­mar de­pends on the sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try. That is why we are watch­ing very closely the progress with the peace process that the gov­ern­ment is con­duct­ing in dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try.

We are also watch­ing very closely the sit­u­a­tion in Rakhine State, from which many of those refugees come from. I am very en­cour­aged by what I heard in Nay Pyi Taw from the State Coun­sel­lor and dif­fer­ent min­is­ters that they will con­sider very se­ri­ously the rec­om­men­da­tions of the spe­cial ad­vi­sory com­mis­sion for Rakhine State headed by former UN Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Kofi Anan, be­cause I think the rec­om­men­da­tion that that com­mis­sion will make, and we are al­ready see­ing the pre­lim­i­nary ver­sion of those rec­om­men­da­tions will be very im­por­tant in chart­ing a way for­ward, cre­at­ing con­di­tions for peace­ful co­ex­is­tence of com­mu­ni­ties in Rakhine State, which will be very im­por­tant in find­ing so­lu­tions for ex­ter­nal and in­ter­nal dis­place­ment.

We have con­flicts es­pe­cially in Kachin and Shan states and the Myan­mar gov­ern­ment and other au­thor­i­ties here, in­clud­ing the Myan­mar mil­i­tary, have been strug­gling with the is­sue of peace build­ing and in the process, and while the process con­tin­ues, the IDPs, the in­ter­nally dis­placed peo­ple are there. Re­ports are say­ing the num­bers are in­creas­ing in cer­tain ar­eas. What is your mes­sage to the Myan­mar gov­ern­ment and the Myan­mar au­thor­i­ties to look­ing af­ter the IDPs in Kachin and Shan states?

In­ter­nally dis­placed peo­ple all over the world – and we es­ti­mate there are more than 40 mil­lion of them world­wide – th­ese dis­placed peo­ple are most usu­ally cre­ated by in­ter­nal con­flicts in the coun­tries where they ex­ist.

And in­ter­nal con­flicts must be re­solved in or­der the in­ter­nally dis­placed peo­ple to go back to their homes. We see this in Syria, we see this in South Su­dan, we see this in Afghanistan, we see this in many coun­tries. We also see it here. It is al­most in­evitable, dif­fer­ent groups fight, some­times gov­ern­ment and non-gov­ern­ment en­ti­ties fight and peo­ple are afraid and get dis­placed.

So we need, first of all, to do po­lit­i­cal work, not we, not the UNHCR, but the par­ties to those con­flicts need to do po­lit­i­cal work. That is why the Pan­g­long process is so im­por­tant be­cause we should not for­get that con­flicts are not po­lit­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tions but have an im­pact on civil­ians.

And to­day’s con­flicts are par­tic­u­larly hard on civil­ians, so one ap­peal that I would like to make to the par­ties to th­ese dif­fer­ent con­flicts that plague the coun­try is that in con­duct­ing hos­til­i­ties, re­spect civil­ians. They should not be the vic­tims of mil­i­tary con­fronta­tion be­cause if that hap­pens, in­evitably you will have more dis­place­ment. The sec­ond ap­peal I would like to make, pend­ing so­lu­tions that I hope will come, is al­low or­ga­ni­za­tions, na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions like mine, ac­cess to peo­ple.

We be­lieve that – and I said it yes­ter­day in my meet­ing in Nay Pyi Taw – that the ac­cess that is granted to hu­man­i­tar­ian agen­cies, in Kachin State in par­tic­u­lar, is far too lit­tle, that if we had that ac­cess we could help the peo­ple that are flee­ing out of fear much more ef­fec­tively. Pend­ing of course, let me say once again po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tions to the con­flicts that will al­low them to go back to their homes.

You have been en­gaged in in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion for more than 30 years. With all this ex­pe­ri­ence, if I may, what is your mes­sage to the gov­ern­ment in bring­ing this, you men­tion the ac­cess, the in­ter­nally dis­placed peo­ple, but some­how things are not re­ally work­ing on the ground. I may be wrong but there is not enough as­sis­tance be­ing given to them. So what would be your main mes­sage to the gov­ern­ment here, given all your ex­pe­ri­ence in han­dling th­ese is­sues?

The gov­ern­ment here is en­gaged in a very com­plex tran­si­tion, as you know much bet­ter than me. And I don’t un­der­es­ti­mate the huge chal­lenges. Not for a minute. I do not un­der­es­ti­mate the huge chal­lenges that the gov­ern­ment has to make ev­ery day in im­ple­ment­ing, in mov­ing for­ward, that im­por­tant fun­da­men­tal tran­si­tion to­wards democ­racy, to­wards pros­per­ity, to­wards sta­bil­ity. The chal­lenges are mul­ti­ple and not just in the mil­i­tary field but also in the eco­nomic field, and so forth.

What my ap­peal is in do­ing that, in mul­ti­ply­ing ef­fort to­ward those goals, don’t for­get dis­place­ment, don’t for­get there are peo­ple out­side that need a so­lu­tion, they are from Myan­mar, don’t for­get there are peo­ple in­side who are dis­placed that need a so­lu­tion, don’t for­get com­mu­ni­ties like the Mus­lim com­mu­nity in Rakhine that suf­fer from marginal­iza­tion, that need to be in­cluded in or­der to be part of the con­struc­tion of the na­tion. That is my strong­est ap­peal.

One good ex­am­ple, and one on which I think we can make fast progress is the Myan­mar refugees in Thai­land. There is about 100,000 of them in dif­fer­ent camps in Thai­land. And many of them are ready to come back.

UNHCR High Com­mis­sioner Mr Fil­lippo Grandi. Photo: Hong Sar

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