BANGKOK (AlertNet) – Western donors must increase rapidly humanitarian aid to impoverished Myanmar, where conflicts have internally displaced half a million people and where 800,000 stateless Rohingyas live in dire conditions, Refugees International said in a report.
The report released on Wednesday also said western governments should lift restrictions on aid to Myanmar, which it said have “exacerbated the impact of the government’s disastrous economic policies and deepened the suffering of the poorest Burmese.”
In total, a third of the Southeast Asian country’s population lives in poverty.
The organisation said 3 million people from Myanmar are refugees in other countries.
“Now is the time for the humanitarian community to expand operations in Burma to meet these humanitarian needs,” it said.
The U.S.-based campaign group singled out the $6.4-million United Nations appeal to support displaced Kachins in northern Myanmar as needing immediate funding.
Fighting in a decades-old conflict flared up in June between government forces and Kachin rebels after a 17-year ceasefire broke down, sending tens of thousands to flee from their homes. Refugees International earlier said the conflict needs both immediate and long-term humanitarian assistance.
NEEDS HIGH, SUPPORT LOW
Myanmar has embarked on tentative reforms ranging from more media freedom to changes to labour laws since a nominally-civilian government took over in March after decades of iron-fisted military rule.
Aid workers told Refugees International that the new government has shown a willingness to cooperate with humanitarian agencies. Over the past year, the government has signed numerous agreements with international aid agencies allowing them to operate in Myanmar, the organisation said. Some of these agreements had been languishing in bureaucracy for years, it said.
“The international community must seize this opportunity to ensure that the needs of the displaced are met, the military’s abuse of human rights are stemmed, and ethnic conflicts progress toward peaceful resolution,” Refugees International said.
It also urged international agencies to partner with local organisations to strengthen their capacity to reach the most vulnerable people, and took the United Nations to task for failing “to leverage its comparative advantages to strengthen the humanitarian dialogue with the Burmese government.”
The limited humanitarian funding inside Myanmar “remains a significant barrier to increasing operational space within the country,” it said, adding the majority of the U.S. government’s $38.5-million contribution to the country goes to organisations based in Thailand.
Strict restrictions placed on aid to Myanmar prevent organisations from providing much-needed technical advice and help to the government which is lacking in basic management, planning and administrative skills in all levels of the administration, Refugees International said.
“Western donors should make their existing policies more flexible in order to assist high-impact, reform-minded ministries like health and social welfare,” the report said.
RESOLVING ETHNIC CONFLICTS
Refugees International said Myanmar’s president should convene an advisory group on ethnic issues to build trust and resolve decades-old conflict. Ethnic groups make up 40 percent of the country’s population.
The report also urged the international community, particularly Indonesia – which has experienced its own transition from military to civilian rule – to engage with the Myanmar military to respond to and prevent violations of human rights, especially in conflict-affected ethnic areas.
It said that, following a meeting between Myanmar Army’s commander-in-chief and U.S. Special Envoy Derek Mitchell, the military requested non-government organisations (NGOs) to report cases of rape by soldiers so that the military could undertake investigations.
Underlining the importance of such international engagement, Refugees International officers said one NGO successfully negotiated the removal of a particularly abusive military battalion from a community.
“Engaging the government and the military is essential to transforming the Burmese government’s pledges of reform into action,” the report said.
(Editing by Rebekah Curtis)