Last Updated: Thursday, 17 April 2014, 10:10 GMT

Global Overview 2011: People internally displaced by conflict and violence - Myanmar

Publisher Norwegian Refugee Council/Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (NRC/IDMC)
Publication Date 19 April 2012
Cite as Norwegian Refugee Council/Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (NRC/IDMC), Global Overview 2011: People internally displaced by conflict and violence - Myanmar, 19 April 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4f97fb5a13.html [accessed 17 April 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Quick facts
Number of IDPsAt least 450,000
Percentage of total populationAt least 0.9%
Start of current displacement situation1962
Peak number of IDPs (Year)Undetermined
New displacementAt least 50,000
Causes of displacementArmed conflict, deliberate policy or practice of arbitrary displacement, human rights violations
Human development index149

At the end of 2011, it was estimated that more than 450,000 people remained internally displaced in Myanmar. During the year, however, the country underwent a number of significant positive political changes. With prospects of a democratic future broadened, there was renewed optimism that these developments could bring about the end of armed conflicts between the government and a number of ethnic armed groups, which have caused much of the internal displacement in the country in the past decades.

In March 2011, a new nominally-civilian government under President Thein Sein took office. It had been elected in November 2010, in the first national elections since 1990. In August 2011, the president met opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who had been banned from standing for office and had been under house arrest until November 2010. Her party, the National League for Democracy, was subsequently able to register to stand in by-elections scheduled for April 2012. Some political prisoners were released in May and October 2011. The government also passed legislation permitting the establishment of labour unions and the organisation of peaceful demonstrations, and it reduced censorship of the media.

In September, as a result of popular protest, President Thein Sein decided to stop construction of the Chinese-funded Myitsone hydropower dam in Kachin state. Nevertheless, fighting between the Kachin Independence Army and government forces in Kachin state and the northern part of Shan state was continuing at the end of 2011, after a 17-year-old ceasefire between the two parties collapsed in June.

At least 50,000 people were thus newly displaced in Kachin state and the northern part of Shan state. There were reports of human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law. In December, a UN team started providing assistance to some IDPs who had taken refuge in the town of Laiza, on the border with China. The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission visited some IDP camps in Kachin state and issued a statement on the humanitarian situation and the needs of the IDPs.

In the south-eastern part of the country (Shan, Kayah, Kayin, and Mon states as well as Bago and Tanintharyi regions), the humanitarian crisis continued throughout 2011. At the end of the year, more than 400,000 people were estimated to be living in internal displacement there. They had been forced to flee their homes due to armed conflicts between armed groups and government forces, and due to human rights violations related to the conflicts.

During the 1990s, the government concluded ceasefires with most armed groups, enabling them to pursue economic activities and to control territory. Some of these groups reportedly went on to heavily exploit natural resources in areas under their control, without benefit to local civilians. New tensions and fighting ensued in 2009, when the government ordered all armed groups to transform into "border guard forces" led by the Myanmar army. For those groups that refused, the government considered their ceasefires to have ended.

In the second half of 2011, the government began negotiating new ceasefires with armed groups. In September and November, initial peace agreements were signed, in Shan state with the United Wa State Army and the National Democratic Alliance Army (Mongla), and in Kayin state with the 5th Brigade of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army. The government also started negotiating with other armed groups, including the Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army, which had never concluded a ceasefire agreement with the government before. A national peace conference to which all ethnic groups would be invited was also being planned.

Following the government's steps towards political reform, several foreign officials visited in 2011, including from countries that were imposing sanctions on Myanmar. In 2012, the international community should support the government's efforts to pursue ceasefire negotiations in order to promote genuine and lasting peace with ethnic minority groups.

The political changes in Myanmar also opened up the way not only for increased humanitarian aid from donors, but also greater foreign investment. It will be important to ensure that such investment follows ethical guidelines. Meanwhile, the humanitarian needs of IDPs and others in the border states must not be forgotten.

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