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Burmese Refugees

Volume 448: debated on Wednesday 28 June 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what help he has made available to support relief groups in Thailand assisting those people displaced from their homes in Burma. (76022)

There are three types of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Burma. These are (with the latest available numbers, from October 2005):

(i) people in temporary settlements in ceasefire areas administered by ethnic nationalities (340,000);

(ii) villagers who have been evicted by the Burmese Government and moved into designated relocation sites (108,000); and

(iii) civilians hiding from the Burmese Army in areas most affected by armed conflict (92,000).

The recent military offensive against the Karen people has swelled the number of civilians hiding in conflict areas by at least 15,000. DFID’s approach to providing emergency assistance to these IDPs has been to use our comparative advantage (the fact that we have a small presence inside the country and a strong network of relationships with ethnic minority and other groups) to reach the IDPs using local community groups inside Burma. This is a complementary approach to the use of relief teams operating cross border from Thailand, and it enables access to IDPs who would not be reached by any other means, and through a mechanism which is much less well supported by other donors. The development of civil society within the country is also a fundamental step in a successful transition to democracy.

The number of IDPs that we can reach from inside the country is limited. Access is difficult, and the small local groups with whom we are working do not currently have the capacity to deliver greater volumes of emergency relief, although we are working to strengthen their ability to do more. Those delivering assistance to IDPs cross border from Thailand face similar challenges. Therefore we recognise the importance of maintaining co-ordination with all donors (both those delivering assistance cross border, and those working inside the country) to ensure that together we manage to reach as many IDPs as possible.

DFID also provides support to IDPs in temporary settlements in ceasefire areas in eastern Burma through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), to which we provide £500,000 a year, of which approximately 75 per cent. is attributable to work with displaced people in this area.

In addition, our health, education and rural livelihood projects provide assistance in eastern Burma, and support internally displaced people in temporary settlements and designated relocation sites there, as well as other vulnerable people. For example, in Karen State, our Fund for HIV/AIDS in Burma supports World Vision projects in two townships, Save the Children UK projects in four townships and Care projects in five townships, as well as supporting other national non-governmental organisations (NGOs). DFID-funded rural livelihoods and pre-primary education projects are also about to start in Karen State.

DFID is also providing support to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working among displaced Burmese people in the refugee camps on the Thai side of the Thai-Burma border—as a grant to the Thai Burma Border Consortium (TBBC) of £1.8 million over three years. In addition, the UK contributes approximately the same amount again as its share of the EC’s support to the TBBC. The British embassy in Bangkok advocates on behalf of Burmese refugees living in Thailand through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to improve the situation in the refugee camps in Thailand and to bring about a relaxation of the regulations prohibiting freedom of movement and employment outside the camps.