UNHCR to upgrade its mission in Myanmar

News Stories, 12 March 2009

© UNHCR/K.McKinsey
A UNHCR vessel in Myanmar's northern Rakhine State. Concluding a mission to Myanmar on Thursday, High Commissioner António Guterres said his agency would be upgrading its mission in the country.

BANGKOK, Thailand, March 12 (UNHCR) The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, undertook a mission to Myanmar from 7-12 March. In the course of the visit, he travelled to the capital, Nay Pyi Taw, as well as to Sittwe and Myeik, where he had an opportunity to observe UNHCR operations in northern Rakhine State and in the South East of the country.

In Nay Pyi Taw, Guterres met with the Ministers of Home Affairs and Immigration, Foreign Affairs, and Border Areas and National Races and Development Affairs.

Both sides agreed on the importance of a continued presence of UNHCR in northern Rakhine State and the South East. The extension of UNHCR's programme for the population of northern Rakhine State was agreed, bringing to a positive conclusion discussions that had been taking place with the government in this regard. A number of specific sectors were identified by the Minister of Home Affairs and the High Commissioner in which it was felt that increasing the scale of activities conducted directly by UNHCR or in conjunction with the UN country team and other partners would complement UNHCR's protection role in relation to voluntary return and reintegration. Sectors considered particularly important were health, education, water and sanitation, agriculture and infrastructure. The High Commissioner was informed that the government had designated the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs to coordinate a development programme for northern Rakhine State. Frank and open discussions also covered all areas of concern to UNHCR, from prevention of displacement to voluntary return, registration and legal status, and improvements to economic and social conditions.

On the basis of his observations and the discussions held, the High Commissioner came to the conclusion that UNHCR's current level of activities in northern Rakhine State does not correspond to the actual needs and a decision was taken to upgrade the programme with immediate effect. It was also agreed that UNHCR and the government would examine the scope for a strengthening of UNHCR activities in the South East of the country and the agency was invited to submit a concrete proposal to the Minister of Border Areas and National Races Development Affairs in this regard.

The visit included meetings with the Resident Coordinator and UN Country Team in Yangon. The High Commissioner encouraged the Country Team to develop a joint initiative for northern Rakhine State, including the five priority areas mentioned above. He also met with the Tripartite Core Group that coordinates assistance provided to the delta area in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis. UNHCR has contributed to the emergency shelter sector of the relief operation and currently focuses its activities on protection of the most vulnerable.

In concluding his visit, Guterres expressed his appreciation for the hospitality that had been extended to him by the government and for the arrangements that had been made to facilitate his mission, including his field visits to northern Rakhine State and the South East that provided the opportunity to see at first hand the actual conditions on the ground.

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UNHCR country pages

The High Commissioner

António Guterres, who joined UNHCR on June 15, 2005, is the UN refugee agency's 10th High Commissioner.

Returnees in Myanmar

During the early 1990s, more than 250,000 Rohingya Muslims fled across the border into Bangladesh, citing human rights abuses by Myanmar's military government. In exile, refugees received shelter and assistance in 20 camps in the Cox's Bazaar region of Bangladesh. More than 230,000 of the Rohingya Muslims have returned since 1992, but about 22,000 still live in camps in Bangladesh. To promote stability in returnee communities in Myanmar and to help this group of re-integrate into their country, UNHCR and its partner agencies provide monitors to insure the protection and safety of the returnees as well as vocational training, income generation schemes, adult literacy programs and primary education.

Returnees in Myanmar

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With eight relief flights and an earlier truck convoy from nearby Thailand, UNHCR had by June 6, 2008 moved 430 tonnes of shelter and basic household supplies into Myanmar to help as many as 130,000 victims of Cyclone Nargis. The aid includes plastic sheeting, plastic rolls, mosquito nets, blankets and kitchen sets. Once the aid arrives in the country it is quickly distributed.

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With eight relief flights and an earlier truck convoy from nearby Thailand, UNHCR had by June 6, 2008 moved 430 tonnes of shelter and basic household supplies into Myanmar to help as many as 130,000 victims of Cyclone Nargis. The aid includes plastic sheeting, plastic rolls, mosquito nets, blankets and kitchen sets. Once the aid arrives in the country it is quickly distributed.

On the outskirts of the city of Yangon – which was also hit by the cyclone – and in the Irrawady delta, some families have been erecting temporary shelters made out of palm leaf thatching. But they desperately need plastic sheeting to keep out the monsoon rains.

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