On this Human Rights Day 2017, I want to share the story of Aye Hkine, a 46-year-old mother of four living in a new displacement camp high in the hills of Kachin State in Myanmar. Aye Hkine has been displaced from her home and village since 2011, living in a series of camps after being forced to flee her home. Earlier this year, she was displaced for the third time when Myanmar’s military forces fired artillery shells which landed near the displacement camp in which she had sought safety.
Thinking back to the time when she first fled her village, Aye Hkine told our team members about the chaos of that night and her fear of becoming separated from her children in the panic. After a week fleeing for their lives, Aye Hkine and her young children faced brutal cold in the displacement camp high in the hills of northern Myanmar, having only tarps for shelter from the snow and frigid temperatures.
Across the country from where a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya has been unfolding, the minority ethnic Kachin population continues to experience severe human rights abuses at the hands of the same Myanmar government and military. Aye Hkine is just one of nearly 100,000 people who continue to live in displacement camps in Kachin and northern Shan States and who now face reductions in international aid even as the Myanmar government makes it more difficult for aid to reach them.
When Refugees International staff asked Aye Hkine what message she would like to send to the world about her plight and that of her children, she said simply, “We just want to go back to our village in security and dignity.”
This was exactly what we heard when we interviewed the Rohingya during our missions to Bangladesh in May and September of this year. On this Human Rights Day, we support Aye Hkine, the Rohingya who have fled Myanmar, and all refugees and displaced people who have had to flee their homes and homelands because of armed conflicts and persecution. Today, we urge leaders world-wide to remember that refugee rights are human rights and to honor Aye Hkine’s wish for dignity and security.
Daniel Sullivan is Senior Advocate for Human Rights at Refugees International.