Much progress has been made in recognising the inherent freedom and equality of all people since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly seventy years ago. However, the challenge of leaving no one behind in pursuit of survival, livelihoods and dignity is arguably greater now than ever. This report assesses human security in rural areas of south eastern Myanmar and fi nds that vulnerability and resilience are the legacy of protracted con fl ict and displacement.
This research compiles estimates of internal displacement, assessments of food security, experiences of refugee returnees and perspectives from civil society leaders. It was coordinated by The Border Consortium (TBC) and based on fi eld surveys and analysis conducted by sixteen civil society organisations (CSOs).
The scale, distribution and causes of internal displacement were assessed in rural areas of 26 townships through key informant interviews with authorities from ethnic armed organisations (EAOs) and civil society. At least 162,000 people remain internally displaced in these areas, which represents around half of the IDPs estimated in these townships during the last survey conducted in 2012. The decrease is primarily attributed to the capacity of displaced persons to find solutions to displacement and the reduced reach of the survey in southern Shan State.
The average annual rate of displacement in rural areas of south eastern Myanmar appears to have decreased from 75,000 people per year between 2003 and 2011 to 10,000 people per year since 2012. Whereas displacement was previously attributed primarily to con fl ict, natural disasters are estimated to have caused more than 75% of displacement during the past fi ve years. Approximately 162,000 displaced persons have attempted to either return to their villages or resettle in surrounding areas between 2013 and 2018. However, the sustainability of these movements and prospects for reintegration remain in doubt due to ongoing security and livelihood concerns.
Over 1,000 households, including 994 children aged between 6 and 59 months, were surveyed utilizing a multi-stage cluster sampling method to assess food security in con fl ict-affected communities and camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs). Results are dismal with 17.6% of children in northern Karen communities identi fi ed with global acute malnutrition (wasting) which is considered a critical public health emergency according to World Health Organisation (WHO) benchmarks. While the rate of wasting amongst children in IDP camps was lower at 7.5%, this is still considered poor by WHO standards.
Chronic malnutrition (stunting) rates were also high, with poor access to safe drinking water and sanitary latrines, and little access to agricultural land and kitchen gardens resulting in low opportunities for income generation and diverse diets. Further, the recommended infant and young child feeding practice of exclusive breastfeeding for the child’s fi rst six months was not followed by most survey respondents.
Perspectives about refugee return and resettlement were solicited from semi-structured interviews with 20 returnees spread across nine townships. Factors pushing refugees to leave the camps were reported as more prominent reasons for return than incentives attracting refugees to Myanmar. The most common explanation related to the withdrawal of assistance in the camps and in particular the gradual reductions in food rations. The main challenges for reintegration identi fi ed by returnees were related to recognition of education, securing land tenure and re-establishing livelihoods.
Some spontaneous returnees re fl ected that they would have had easier access to citizenship cards and household registration documents if they had applied through UNHCR’s facilitated return process and encouraged other refugees to do so. Advice for other refugees contemplating return included preparing as soon as possible in developing transferrable skills, considering potential sites for resettlement and planning how to become self-reliant. While returnees suggested numerous ways in which government, EAOs and international donors could support return and reintegration, an effective mechanism for land restitution for both housing and agricultural purposes was the most common request.
Perspectives about human security in con fl ict-affected areas were shared by 10 CSOs representing a cross-section of Karen, Mon and Karenni communities. These include re fl ections on the importance of localizing concepts and practices associated with civilian cease fi re monitoring and the challenge of building trust when cease fi re agreements are repeatedly violated. The signi fi cance of recognising existing customary land management systems is highlighted and suggestions for resolving land disputes are offered.
Apart from stopping abuses and preventing reoccurrence in the future, the challenge of addressing human rights violations committed in the past is raised. Threats to sustainable agriculture and food security are analysed and mechanisms by which local communities can promote equitable natural resource management are championed. The responses of ethnic health service providers to the prevalence of water borne disease are documented and the contribution of mother tongue based, multilingual education to broadening learning opportunities is emphasized. Finally, the concerns of refugee returnees in regards to resettlement and reintegration are underscored.
Twenty years after the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement were launched, this compilation of fi eld research is a poignant reminder that the impacts of protracted con fl ict and displacement in south eastern Myanmar remain immense. Calls to link rights-based humanitarian, development and peace-building interventions to promote human security are as relevant as ever. The voices and concerns of indigenous communities need to be brought to the forefront of policy-making so that people-centered responses ensure that no one is left behind.