Solidarity with displaced populations and host communities in Myanmar needed more than ever
Every year on World Refugee Day, the international community comes together to celebrate the strength and resilience of those forced to flee their homes as well as the host communities who welcome them. For my colleagues and I at UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, it is an opportunity for us to reaffirm our commitment in supporting the people of Myanmar.
Solidarity for Myanmar is needed now more than ever amid a growing humanitarian crisis. The realities are sobering. In addition to pre-existing conflict-affected populations, hundreds of thousands more have been displaced across the country in the past year.
As conflict intensifies, the UN projects that the rate of displacement is likely to increase for the foreseeable future. While tens of thousands have sought safety in neighbouring countries like India and Thailand as refugees, the vast majority remain in Myanmar as internally displaced people (IDPs).
The challenges faced by those displaced are numerous. Conditions have deteriorated while vulnerabilities have increased as instability has led to disruptions in health services, food assistance, livelihood opportunities, banking systems and telecommunications. Armed conflict has also impeded the ability of affected populations to seek safety and urgent lifesaving assistance.
Yet, in the face of so much adversity lies the incredible strength of the human spirit. While the challenges and obstacles faced by the people of Myanmar are regularly reported, much less talked about are the stories of courage, solidarity and resilience displayed everyday by individuals.
Acts of kindness and generosity are abound. Whenever my colleagues and I go into the field to distribute humanitarian supplies, IDPs often tell us that they will only take what they need and urge us to give the rest to those in greater need - a beautiful display of empathy and compassion despite many having lost their homes, travelling long distances and sometimes losing family members to conflict.
The assistance UNHCR provides is part of a wider collective effort undertaken by the humanitarian community to support those forced to flee. Just as impressive as the acts by IDPs themselves, are the numerous examples of host communities and local organizations stepping up and acting as first responders. We are all touched by the hospitality offered by monasteries, churches, schools, community halls and even strangers’ homes, welcoming displaced people with open arms and hearts so that they can have shelter, food and safety.
UNHCR continually emphasizes that our assistance merely complements what courageous individuals and caring communities are doing to help those displaced by conflict. As part of our commitment to stay and deliver, we continue to work round the clock to deliver lifesaving aid. In 2021 alone, core relief items, including kitchen sets, blankets, sleeping mats and solar lamps, among other items, reached 182,000 people, while 113,000 benefitted from shelter support. Furthermore, an additional 100,000 people were reached in the first six months of 2022.
Despite these efforts, much work remains to be done. Humanitarian organisations face many constraints, including access limitations and insecurity, in the delivery of assistance and protection services to people in most need. Of particular challenge is reaching those located in rural and difficult-to-access areas where food, clean water, shelter and basic household items are in short supply.
Every person has a right to seek safety. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that people have access to safety and their basic needs met. Together with our sister UN agencies, we continue advocacy efforts to facilitate safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to ensure that no one gets left behind.
Our responsibility does not end there. Once out of harm’s way, we need to ensure that displaced people continue to feel safe and treated with respect and dignity. As the current crisis persists, affected communities are at-risk of finding themselves in a situation of prolonged displacement – a state of limbo exponentially increasing their vulnerability. As community support capacities weaken over time, the need to strengthen programming around resilience building becomes ever more critical.
In this vein, UNHCR will endeavour to mitigate risks faced by IDPs, returnees and host communities by building their resilience in an inclusive manner, while facilitating critical life-saving assistance and protection services. We are here to stay and here to deliver together with partners, committing ourselves to protect those forced to flee and provide vital live-saving assistance to people in need across Myanmar.
Hai Kyung Jun is the Representative of UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, in Myanmar.