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Myanmar: UN refugee agency ‘seriously concerned’ over returns from China

7 September 2012 – The United Nations refugee agency is “seriously concerned” over reports that China has sent back from its Yunan province groups of Myanmar nationals who sought safety there from violence in neighbouring Myanmar’s Kachin state.

“UNHCR is urging the Government of China to offer temporary protection to those who fled the fighting, to respect their humanitarian needs and not send them back to a situation where their safety and livelihood could be at risk,” a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Adrian Edwards, told a news briefing in Geneva.

“We stand ready to support China in assisting these people until the situation stabilizes in their home areas,” he added.

The UN estimates that some 75,000 civilians have been displaced within Kachin and Myanmar’s northern Shan states since fighting broke out between Government troops and rebels last year, with more people continuing to flee insecure areas every day.

Mr. Edwards said that some 5,000 ethnic Kachins – who had fled fighting between Government troops and rebels that broke out in Kachin state in June last year – have been returned from China since mid-August, and were living in makeshift camps in border areas of the Myanmar state.

The spokesperson noted that more than 3,400 returnees are now staying in camps for internally displaced people in Kachin state because their homes were destroyed in the fighting and they are afraid to return to their villages. “They desperately need food, medicine, shelter and other relief items,” he added.

Despite repeated requests to the Chinese authorities, the refugee agency has not been able to reach or assist Kachin groups living along the Chinese side of the border, but recently a UNHCR team travelled to the town Lwe Je on the Myanmar side to provide aid and assess the needs of the returnees.

Some of those interviewed said that local authorities in China pulled down their shelters, and others reported that plainclothes policemen put them on a truck, loaded their belongings on another truck, and drove them to a border crossing point.

Staff of a local non-governmental organization saw what happened and arranged for trucks to take the returnees to the nearest camps in Myanmar, according to Mr. Edwards, who also noted that local groups say they expect more people to be sent back from China.

UNHCR has distributed relief items to the 1,200 returnees in the four camps for internally displaced persons in Lwe Je, including tarpaulins, blankets, mosquito nets, kitchen sets and basic toiletries. On Thursday, the agency’s team completed a second visit to the town to deliver aid and to assess the returnees’ needs in a more comprehensive way.

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