Inter-agency mission distributes vital aid to 2,000 ethnic Kachin in northern Myanmar

News Stories, 1 March 2013

© UNHCR/A.Kirchhof
A UNHCR-supported camp for internally displaced people near Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin state in northern Myanmar.

YANGON, Myanmar, March 1 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency said on Friday that an inter-agency visit to northern Myanmar's Kachin state has successfully delivered badly-needed aid to hundreds of conflict-affected people.

UNHCR staff took part in the February 17-21 mission to the Hpakant area of Kachin state after access was granted by the Myanmar government. The area saw intensified fighting in September and December last year.

This was the first time United Nations humanitarian staff were able to reach internally displaced people there since January 2012. Aside from UNHCR, staff from the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the Danish Refugee Council and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) also took part in the visit.

A 10-vehicle convoy brought relief items for 400 displaced families, equivalent to some 2,000 people. These included tarpaulins for shelter, blankets, mosquito nets, cooking sets, clothes and sanitary items. Over the coming weeks, UNHCR plans to return to Hpakant to distribute supplies for another 1,000 displaced families that have yet to receive any assistance.

In Hpakant, the team assessed living conditions, undertook needs and protection assessments and conducted profiling in 17 camps housing more than 6,000 internally displaced people.

"The aid workers found overcrowded communal shelters and raised concerns that a lack of privacy may be giving rise to protection issues. They highlighted the need for better temporary accommodation and improvements to camp infrastructure, including more health care services and improved water and sanitation facilities," a UNHCR spokesman said. Several IDPs said the situation in their places of origin was too insecure to return.

Under the inter-agency response in Kachin state, UNHCR leads the protection sector and is cluster lead in shelter, non-food items and camp coordination and management.

Fighting in Kachin and northern Shan states, which broke out in June 2011, is estimated to have caused the displacement of 75,000 civilians. Of these, some 32,000 are in government-controlled areas. A surge in fighting between the government and rebels in December and January is believed to have displaced thousands more people. However, figures are difficult to verify since access to many areas has been severely limited.

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A humanitarian crisis is unfolding across Myanmar's Rakhine state, where some 115,000 people are desperately in need of aid after being displaced during two waves of inter-communal violence in June and October 2012. The displaced, most of them ethnic Rohingya, have sought shelter in temporary relief camps and others remain scattered across the state, living under tight security in their destroyed villages. Conditions are harsh: the camps are overcrowded and some lack even the most basic of sanitation facilities while many of the villages are totally destroyed and running low on water. In one village, more than 32 families were living cheek-by-jowl in just two large tents. The children have no access to education and the newborn and elderly are in a very vulnerable position due to a lack of medical facilities. UNHCR is distributing relief supplies and working with the authorities and partners to improve camp conditions, but international assistance is required.

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Among those who are displaced across borders as a result of climate change, some will be refugees while others may not meet the definition. Nevertheless, many may be in need of protection and assistance.

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