Refugees from Burma's Bhamo city cook their meals at a rescue camp in the Chinese
southwestern border city of Ruili (Photo/Reuters)
DHARAMSHALA, June 28: Chinese authorities are forcing back into Burma, ethnic Kachin refugees who have fled civil war, and is denying basic care to many who remain, a human rights group said this week.
In a 68-page report, US based Human Rights Watch said thousands of Burmese refugees in China are at the risk of being forcibly returned to the war-torn northern region of Burma from China’s border province of Yunan.
The Kachin conflict, which flared up in the middle of 2011 after a 17-year truce, has pushed up to 10,000 people to seek refuge across the border.
HRW said it had documented two cases involving around 300 people who were ordered to return to Burma, and others who were sent back into the conflict zone after being turned away at the border.
"The forced returns put the refugees at grave risk and created a pervasive fear of forced return among the Kachin refugees who remain in Yunnan," the group said.
Urging the Chinese government to respect basic refugee rights, HRW said that China has no legitimate right to return the refugees.
“The Chinese government has generally tolerated Kachin refugees staying in Yunnan, but now needs to meet its international legal obligations to ensure refugees are not returned and that their basic needs are met,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at HRW.
“China has no legitimate reason to push them back to Burma or to leave them without food and shelter.”
The group said that thousands of ethnic Kachin refugees are facing food and water shortages and inadequate sanitation at makeshift camps and need support and protection.
“The Kachin refugees in Yunnan described to Human Rights Watch their lack of adequate shelter, food, potable water, sanitation, and basic health care,” HRW said, adding that most of the refugee children have no access to schools.
“Adults seek day labor and are vulnerable to exploitation by local employers. Other Kachin refugees have been subject to arbitrary roadside drug testing, arbitrary fines, and prolonged and abusive detention by the Chinese authorities, all without due process or judicial oversight.”
According to the rights group, China has so far, not only denied aid to the displaced persons, but has rejected attempts by United Nations humanitarian agencies to access the refugees.
"China needs to respect refugee rights, and it needs to provide humanitarian access to these refugees, including by UNHCR," said Richardson. "And it needs to recognise that there needs to be some temporary protection for these refugees until it is safe to go home."