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Burma

Volume 449: debated on Wednesday 19 July 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what humanitarian aid his Department is providing to people displaced from eastern Burma; and if he will make a statement. (86016)

There are three types of internally displaced people (IDPs) in eastern 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 work through 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.

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.

In parallel, the Government fully support international efforts, particularly through the UN, to bring about tangible progress in restoring democratic freedoms and full respect for human rights. The UK has co-sponsored successive highly critical UN resolutions on Burma and played a leading role in drafting the resolution most recently adopted at the UN General Assembly in December 2005. This expressed grave concern at the attacks by military forces in violation of cease-fire agreements and called on the regime to end the systematic violations of human rights, including enforced displacement.

UN Security Council members last discussed the situation in Burma on 16 December under ‘Any Other Business'. In this discussion, the UK highlighted the on-going human rights abuses, the detention of political prisoners, internal conflicts and the spread of HIV/AIDS and other diseases. Though there was no consensus to issue a presidential statement or other formal report, the discussions reflected the concern felt in many parts of the international community over the regime's failure to make progress towards democracy and to respect international human rights norms. At present there is no agreement within the Security Council, including among the permanent members, to add Burma to the Council's formal agenda, but the UK, through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, will continue to co-ordinate closely with the UN and partners in the Security Council and the region in considering how best to maintain pressure for positive change in Burma.