China Sends Kachin Refugees Back to Myanmar

Despite human rights groups urging China to protect them, the New York Times reports that Kachin refugees are forcibly being sent back to Myanmar. Thousands have fled to escape violence between the Myanmar government and the Kachin Independence Army:

The authorities in southwestern China are forcibly evicting thousands of encamped ethnic Kachin refugees who fled a renewed civil war in neighboring Myanmar, pushing them back into the conflict zone in Kachin State in northern Myanmar, according to foreign human rights researchers and some residents in Kachin State.

“All the refugees in China now are being pushed back,” said one resident of Laiza, the capital of the rebel-held part of Kachin State. “Many of them are back already.”Officials in Yunnan and Beijing had been tolerating the presence of the Kachin refugees for more than a year, although Yunnan officials had been threatening to evict them. It is not clear why the refugees are being expelled now. An employee at the Chinese Foreign Ministry said the ministry had no immediate comment after it was sent a list of questions on Thursday. Calls to the Yunnan propaganda office went unanswered, as did calls to the propaganda office of Dehong Autonomous Prefecture, the location of the camps.

China has not taken an official position on the Kachin conflict. Kachin State is rich in jade, timber, mineral wealth and water resources, all coveted by the Chinese. Several large Chinese dam projects are in the region, including the Myitsone dam, which aroused local protests. China is also a major patron of the Burmese government, though many Myanmar citizens are wary of or hostile toward growing Chinese influence.

Authorities in Southwest China’s Yunnan Province and the Consulate General of Myanmar in Kunming Wednesday both denied that China had pressured the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), a political organization in Myanmar’s Kachin State, to bring 4,000 people who fled conflict in Myanmar back to the country.

Officials from the Yunnan government and the government of Ruili, a town bordering Myanmar, told the Global Times that they hadn’t received any orders to pressure the Myanmar people who had fled to the province to leave.

“The Chinese government does not need to ask them to leave because it’s very common for Kachin people to come to Yunnan to visit relatives and friends as they share the same ancestors,” Zhu Zhenming, director of the Institute for Southeast Asian Studies at the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.According to the expert, Kachin people belong to the same ethnic group as Jingpo, a Chinese ethnic group who mostly live in the Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture of Dehong, which administers Ruili.

“China is flouting its international legal obligations by forcibly returning Kachin refugees to an active conflict zone rife with Burmese army abuses,” saidBill Frelick, Refugee Program director. “China should urgently change course and provide temporary protection for the refugees in Yunnan Province.”

The Kachin refugees repatriated the week of August 19 were not allowed to remain in the more than a dozen makeshift camps in China in which they had lived since June 2011. In July 2012, authorities in Yunnan Province, along Burma’s northern border, visited Kachin refugees and informed them they were no longer welcome in China and had to return to Burma.

A local Kachin aid worker who has communicated directly with the Yunnan authorities told Human Rights Watch, “I went to the camps when the [Chinese] authorities came to give a speech to talk about this to the refugees. They said, ‘We cannot accept you living here. We allowed you to stay here for over one year but it is no longer possible for you to stay here. You must go back.’”

While the Chinese government has provided sanctuary to an estimated 7,000 to 10,000 Kachin who fled conflict-related abuses in Burma and sought safety in Yunnan Province, the authorities have failed to provide them temporary protection or aid. The Chinese government has denied United Nations and international humanitarian agencies much-needed access to these refugees. Those returned to Burma will be relegated to living in camps for internally displaced people that lack adequate aid and are currently isolated from UN agencies because the Burmese government has blocked humanitarian access to the area.

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