November 15, 2011

As Andrew Mitchell, Secretary of State for International Development, visits Burma this week, Burma Campaign UK called on him to do more to ensure British aid reaches internal refugees who have fled increased attacks by the Burmese Army in the past year.

Forty-percent of the population of Burma are from different ethnic groups. For decades central governments in Burma have responded to their demands for more autonomy, rights and protection with military force, leading to the longest running civil war in the world. For the past 15-20 years many armed ethnic political parties have been on ceasefire.

In the past year Burma’s government has broken three ceasefire agreements with armed ethnic political parties, and the Burmese Army has been deliberately attacking civilians in these conflicts. It has also continued attacks against civilians in ethnic states in Burma’s border regions where there was no ceasefire. These attacks are so serious the UN expert on human rights in Burma has called for a Commission of Inquiry into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Almost 150,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in the past year. Many are hiding in temporary camps in the jungle, or makeshift shelters. The Burmese government is severely restricting access to these internal refugees by the UN and other aid agencies, resulting in a shortage of food, shelter, clothing and medicine.

“We welcome the British government increasing aid to Burma, but the government of Burma is stopping British aid reaching many of those who need help the most,” said Zoya Phan, Campaigns Manager at Burma Campaign UK, and who herself fled attacks by the Burmese Army as a teenager, hiding in the jungle. “The only way to reach many of these refugees is local people bringing aid across the border from neighbouring countries, known as cross-border aid, but the British government isn’t giving extra funding for this kind of life-saving aid.”

In 2007 the International Development Committee of the British Parliament published a strongly worded report calling on the Department for International Development to increase cross-border aid as the only way to reach many of those in the conflict zones in Burma’s ethnic states. However, DFID provided only limited additional funding, and nothing close to what is needed.

“British aid to Burma has doubled, and in the past year the number of internally displaced refugees who need aid has doubled, but DFID hasn’t provided any significant new money to help these refugees,” said Zoya Phan.  “We are glad that Andrew Mitchell has broken the silence about the increased attacks against ethnic civilians, and hope he will also ensure they get the aid they desperately need.”

Burma Campaign UK welcomes the robust message Andrew Mitchell is delivering to the government of Burma during his visit, stating that while there are grounds for cautious optimism, there is still a long way to go before deep progress will be made.  Andrew Mitchell called for the release of all political prisoners, highlighting the 88 Generation Student leaders serving 65 year prisoner terms, and said the government should be judged by its actions rather than its words.

For more information contact Zoya Phan on 020 7324 4710


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