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Library Internal Displacement and Protection in Eastern Burma

Internal Displacement and Protection in Eastern Burma

Internal Displacement and Protection in Eastern Burma

Resource information

Date of publication
September 2005
Resource Language
ISBN / Resource ID

"The Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC) first collaborated with communitybased
organizations to document the scale and distribution of internal displacement
in Eastern Burma during 2002. Two years later, another survey was coordinated to
enhance understanding about the vulnerability of internally displaced persons. These
assessments sought to increase awareness about the situation in conflict-affected
areas which remain largely inaccessible to the international community.
More communities have been displaced during the past year while others have
attempted to return to former villages, resettle elsewhere in Burma or continue their
journey of forced migration into Thailand. As the environment is constantly evolving,
situation assessments also need to be regularly revised. Part of the purpose of this
report is thus to update estimates of the scale and distribution of internally displaced
persons in eastern Burma.
Threats against conflict-affected populations in eastern Burma have been well
documented by a range of independent institutions. However, there is little information
on humanitarian efforts to stop existing patterns of abuse, mitigate the worst
consequences, prevent emerging threats and promote judicial redress. A second key
objective is therefore to inform the development of humanitarian protection strategies
for internally displaced persons and other civilians whose lives and livelihoods are
threatened by war, abuse and violence.
This year's surveys were designed in partnership with ethnic community based
organizations with reference to the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and
conducted between April and June 2005. Estimates for the scale and distribution of
internal displacement have been compiled from interviews with key informants in
37 townships across the six states and divisions of eastern Burma. Analysis of
issues relevant to humanitarian protection has been based around responses to 1,044
questionnaires with conflict-affected households spread evenly between hiding sites,
government controlled relocation sites, ethnic administered ceasefire areas and
mixed administration areas. These responses have been complemented by semistructured
interviews with internally displaced persons, the four main non state actors
in eastern Burma and ten humanitarian agencies based in Rangoon.
During the past year it is estimated that a further 87,000 people were forced or obliged
to leave their homes by the effects of war or human rights abuses. Border-wide, a
further 68 villages were destroyed, relocated or otherwise abandoned during this
period, including a number which had only recently been established by displaced
persons. In the majority of cases, forced displacement was found to be caused by
violence or abuse perpetrated by the armed forces of the ruling State Peace
and Development Council (SPDC). This survey has also identified 88 previously
abandoned villages which have been partially re-established during the past year. In
this time, it is estimated that 40,000 people who had previously been displaced have
returned to their homes or resettled elsewhere in eastern Burma.
The total number of internally displaced persons in eastern Burma who have been
forced or obliged to leave their homes over the past decade and have not been able
to return or resettle and reintegrate into society is estimated to be at least 540,000
people. The population is comprised of 340,000 people currently in the temporary
settlements of ceasefire areas administered by ethnic nationalities, while 92,000
civilians are estimated to be hiding from the Burma Army in areas most affected by armed conflict and approximately 108,000 villagers have followed eviction orders
from the SPDC and moved into designated relocation sites.
Overall this represents a slight increase of approximately 14,000 internally displaced
persons since late 2004. This is attributed primarily to flight in Shan State away
from SPDC patrols and into hiding, a significant inflow into Mon ceasefire areas,
and methodological differences estimating populations in Tenasserim Division's
relocation sites. These combined increases have outweighed reductions in the
estimates for internally displaced populations hiding in Karen State as well as for
ceasefire areas in Shan and Karen State. However, these population estimates are
considered conservative as it has not been possible to include displaced persons in
urban areas and rural mixed administration areas who may not have reintegrated into
society but rather remain in a state of internal displacement.
Patterns of insecurity, the coping strategies of survivors of abuse and violence, and
attempts at engaging the humanitarian responsibility of relevant authorities
were assessed to inform the development of protection strategies. The survey
conclusively found that not only are soldiers from the Burma Army the primary
perpetrators of abuse, but also that the Government of Burma is generally unable or
unwilling to strengthen local coping strategies and protect civilians from harm.
Legal insecurity is highlighted by findings that less than a quarter of the conflictaffected
population own legal title deeds for land tenure while just 12% of civilians
hiding from Burma Army patrols possess an identity card. The former reflects
the threat of land confiscation while the latter increases vulnerability to extortion at
checkpoints, harassment in contested areas, restricted access to markets and fields
as well as another obstacle for the internally displaced against returning to former
homes or resettlement elsewhere in Burma.
Despite the range and severity of deliberate physical violence in conflict-affected
areas, the prevalence of threats to civilian livelihoods is on a much greater scale. A
third of households surveyed have been directly affected by arbitrary taxes and
forced labour in the past year. During this period, the deliberate impoverishment
and deprivation of civilians as a counter-insurgency strategy is reflected in 17% of
households having had food supplies destroyed or confiscated. Similarly, a quarter
of households in hiding and relocation sites reported having had housing destroyed
or having been forcibly evicted during the past year.
Although unable to stop or prevent violence and abuse, internally displaced and
conflict-affected villagers have developed a range of coping strategies to resist threats
and mitigate the worst consequences. Other civilians are the main source of early
warning signals about approaching troops, which stresses the importance of building
social capital, or networks of trust, within and between local communities for the
development of a more protective environment.
Hiding food supplies and preparing alternative hiding sites in case counterinsurgency
patrols induce an emergency evacuation were the main approaches to
coping with threats amongst households in hiding sites. Conversely, the main method
of minimizing risks in relocation sites and mixed administration areas is reportedly to
pay fines and follow orders. These findings suggest that abuses against civilians by
government forces are motivated not only by retaliation against armed opposition
patrols, but also by economic imperatives or greed. Six percent of households reported that they had at some point resorted to procuring
a hand gun to minimize threats to safety and livelihoods. Given the threat of being
suspected as either a rebel sympathizer by the SPDC or a government collaborator
by the armed opposition, this gauge of the prevalence of assault weapons is
considered high. Due to the breakdown in law and order and the ease of
procurement, transport, concealment and use, the prevalence of small arms is in
itself a significant threat of violent insecurity.
Humanitarian responsibilities relate to ensuring that parties to a conflict respect
human dignity and prevent harm from being inflicted on civilians. While it was
beyond the possibility of this survey to engage Burmese national authorities, the views
of non state actors were solicited. Humanitarian agencies based in Rangoon were
also consulted about their experiences in dealing with the government.
Non state actors acknowledged that the use of landmines was their main transgression
in terms of threatening the safety and livelihoods of civilians. 86% of villagers surveyed
were not aware of any signs on location warning about minefields, indicating that
there is no systematic demarcation of minefields in eastern Burma. However the
armed opposition authorities, and indeed a quarter of civilian households hiding
in the most conflict-affected areas, perceived landmines as a necessary means of
self-defense against the military might of the Burma Army.
It was also admitted by non state actors that their protective capacities are limited.
Authorities from ceasefire parties negotiated a cessation of hostilities ten years ago
to reduce the deprivations suffered by the civilian population, but have still not been
able to address ongoing human rights abuses. In areas of ongoing armed conflict,
the non state actors responded that short term protection objectives are limited to
deterring and delaying SPDC patrols, using radio communication to provide warnings
to villagers of approaching troop movements, and securing access for local
humanitarian agencies to provide relief aid.
Humanitarian agencies based in Rangoon have managed to expand not only their
access into eastern Burma but also the engagement of government authorities
in policy-level dialogue during the past decade. However, United Nations (UN)
agencies reported that since the purge of the former Prime Minister and his allies
in October 2004, humanitarian agencies in Burma have either been disregarded or
viewed with suspicion by the government. Unless the government is willing to
engage in policy-level dialogue about protection concerns, it is recognised that the
humanitarian space will contract further.
At the same time humanitarian agencies increasingly feel squeezed by restrictions
from donors who are worried that foreign aid may be prolonging the rule of an
illegitimate government. A perceived concern is that humanitarian sanctions will
further restrict contact with policy makers, and exacerbate the reluctance of the
Burmese government to negotiate about protection concerns. The challenge for
humanitarian responses is to promote protection oriented programming which
includes assessment of the programme's impact on the conflict.
These surveys sought to update estimates of internal displacement and inform the
development of protection strategies for conflict-affected areas in eastern Burma.
Recommendations are not presented, but it is hoped that this report will enlighten
collaborative strategies to stop existing patterns of abuse and prevent emerging threats
from harming internally displaced and other conflict-affected communities.

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