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Stepping into Uncertainty: Refugee and IDP experiences of return in Southeast Myanmar, August 2020 [EN/MY]

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Executive Summary

Refugee repatriations and IDP returns in Myanmar have steadily increased since the 2015 Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, as have repatriation and return initiatives. If ethnic minorities are to assume an active and equal role in Myanmar’s future, then political, economic and social reintegration of returnees is critical. The situation of refugee and IDP returnees in rural Southeast Myanmar remains however extremely difficult, with most struggling to meet their most basic needs and little means of even beginning to build a sustainable livelihood. KHRG interviews with returnees suggest that current support frameworks are so insufficient that those who do receive return assistance are generally no more capable of rebuilding their lives than those who have returned “spontaneously” with no institutional or governmental support whatsoever.

Moreover, unmet promises about resettlement support and follow-up have left returnees vulnerable to further hardship, and even future displacement if they are unable to adequately rebuild their lives in their new localities.
Although some accommodation has been made to assist with access to legal documents, many returnees continue to struggle to obtain the documents to which they are entitled as citizens.

As such, full political, social and economic inclusion will also be hampered, as access to land, education, and employment require civil documentation. Ultimately, interest in the upcoming national elections and local decision-making is extremely low, since the daily struggles to meet even their most basic needs remains the central preoccupation of most returnees. Concerns about security and safety are also still prevalent for some due to the presence of ethnic armed actors as well as landmines and UXO (unexploded ordnance). In the absence of economic and physical security, returnees are likely to remain marginalised as political and social actors in building a democratic, peaceful, and stable society.

Lack of confidence in the peace process, distrust in government administration, and feelings of being discounted by the current government were also expressed by returnees and serve as clear indicators that the historical realities of conflict and violence are not yet (but in need of) being addressed as part of repatriation and reintegration initiatives. By calling attention to these problems, the current report highlights the challenges faced by returnees so that actions can be taken to better promote their sustainable and dignified return.

Throughout this report, KHRG privileges the lived experiences of return to amplify the concerns of returnees, whose voices should be taken into account by the Myanmar government and relevant ethnic armed organisations and aid providers.