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
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