New report shows security threats to refugees on Shan-Thai border

A new report by the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) and Shan State Refugee Committee – Thai Border (SSRC-TB) found that new security threats from the Myanmar Army and the United Wa State Army (UWSA) are heightening the vulnerability of refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) living in camps along the border between Shan State and Thailand.

IDPs living at Loi Tai Laeng during an evacuation drill in February 2019

The report found that, despite an existing ceasefire with the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA), the Myanmar Army has been reinforcing positions around the five Shan IDP camps, building new roads and sending out drones. In February 2019, six 120mm shells were fired at two IDP locations. Those at the camps are now preparing bunkers and carrying out evacuation drills in preparation for further attacks.

The UWSA has also been expanding its territory in southern Shan State. In February 2019, UWSA troops seized fields near Loi Kaw Wan IDP camp in Mong Hsat, violating a boundary agreement with RCSS/SSA and depriving IDPs of already scarce agricultural land.

The report also noted the growing militarization in southern Shan State. SHRF’s new maps highlight the increasing number of Myanmar Army and UWSA outposts around IDP camps. The maps also show the extent to which the UWSA has solidified control over its southern territories, to which it forcibly resettled over 120,000 Wa villagers twenty years ago, pushing out the indigenous Shan, Akha, and Lahu inhabitants. Rural subsistence farming communities have been replaced by a sprawl of military garrisons overseeing large mono-crop plantations, mainly producing rubber for export to China.

The map showing positions of Myanmar Army camps and UWSA camps around Shan IDP and refugee camps

In October 2017, international food aid to Shan refugee and IDP camps ceased. UN and INGO maps of humanitarian needs in southeast Myanmar also no longer show the Shan IDP camps. The report says that this is due to the official narrative generated by the Myanmar government, which presents southern Shan state as a now peaceful area, since armed groups have signed ceasefires and joined the peace process. According to the report, not only is the reality different, but the main causes of displacement also remain unaddressed.

“Our villages and lands are occupied by Burmese government and Wa troops. It is impossible for us to return home under the current conditions,” said Sai Leng, head of the SSRC-TB. “Ignoring the displaced Shan is not going to bring peace,” said Sai Leng. “We want international pressure on the Burma Army to end the war.”

The SHRF and SSRC-TB are calling on foreign governments to pressure the Myanmar Army to stop the militarization and attacks in all ethnic areas of the country, so that a new inclusive peace process can begin, and to urgently resume food aid to IDPs and refugees in camps along the Shan-Thai border until they can return safely and voluntarily to their homes in Shan State.