"Access Denied: Images of Displacement in Northern Myanmar"

The same military responsible for a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya in western Myanmar is also responsible for serious human rights abuses and denial of life-saving aid in the north of the country. Some 100,000 people living in displacement camps in Kachin and northern Shan States face increased restrictions on aid delivery, decreased international aid, and waning global attention. A team from Refugees International (RI) recently traveled to displacement camps in northern Myanmar to document the ongoing humanitarian and protection crisis and to shine a light on a population suffering in shadows for too long.


Most of the nearly 100,000 people displaced in northern Myanmar have been displaced since 2011, when fighting renewed between the Myanmar military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). Many of the displaced are in remote areas, increasingly cut off from aid as a result of deliberate policies of the Myanmar government.


This woman was pregnant with her now 6-years-old son when she first fled her village in 2011. He has grown up in an IDP camp in Kachin State.


Many internally displaced persons (IDPs) have been displaced multiple times. Aye Hkine, a 46-year-old mother of four, told Refugees International (RI) she was displaced for the third time in January 2017, when Myanmar military shells fell near Zai Awng IDP camp. She was forced to flee to a new camp high in the mountains, arriving with only a tarp for shelter as snow was falling.


“We don’t feel safe…We fear the fighting will return to us,” Bawk Ja told RI. “Even this year we heard guns on the surrounding hills,” added Hkawn Lum (right).


By far the most cited challenge by IDPs interviewed by RI was the lack of livelihood opportunities. Many IDPs previously worked as farmers but do not now have access to farmland in the IDP camps. Increasing numbers of the IDPs are seeking labor across the border in China, opening up greater risks of exploitation or human trafficking.


Those IDPs living in more remote camps like Sha It Yang will be particularly vulnerable as aid restrictions increase and winter approaches.


“Even if I had the chance to go home, there are no homes. They were all destroyed.” Se Mun, a 64-year-old woman from northern Shan State, told RI. Nearly all IDPs expressed a desire to return to their homes but cited immense barriers, including destroyed homes, confiscated land, or presence of landmines.


IDPs still hold out hope for peace, but negotiations and durable solutions will depend on addressing ongoing human rights abuses and persistent, valid safety concerns. In the meantime, access to humanitarian assistance will be vital.

Read more about the situation in Kachin and northern Shan States and our recommendations in the report Suffering in Shadows: Aid Restrictions and Reductions Endanger Displaced Persons in Northern Myanmar.