Several thousand ethnic Kachin refugees from Myanmar are isolated in Yunnan, China, where they are at risk of return to a conflict zone and lack needed humanitarian aid. The Chinese government should immediately provide temporary protection and allow United Nations and humanitarian agencies unhindered access to Kachin refugees in Yunnan who have fled wartime abuses in Myanmar.
“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 Richardso, China director at Human Rights Watch.
The 68-page report describes how at least 7,000 to 10,000 ethnic Kachin refugees have fled war and abuses in Burma since June 2011, seeking refuge in southwestern China. The report is based on more than 100 interviews with refugees, displaced persons in Burma, victims of abuses, relief workers, and others.
The Kachin refugees in Yunnan described to Human Rights Watch their lack of adequate shelter, food, potable water, sanitation, and basic health care. Most children have no access to schools. In search of income, 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. In addition, some refugees have been refused entry at the border, and local Chinese officials, on the orders of the central authorities, have forced others back to conflict areas in Burma.
China is a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol as well as other international human rights treaties that provide protections for refugees and asylum seekers. The Refugee Convention prohibits the forced return “in any manner whatsoever” of refugees to places where their “life or freedom” would be threatened on account of their “race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social or political opinion." Nonrefoulement is the cornerstone of refugee protection and is foundational to China’s legal obligations toward refugees.
Human Rights Watch said that concerned governments should support local organizations that are currently providing aid to the refugee population, and should urgently press Chinese authorities to provide unfettered access to the refugees.
Kachin refugees in Yunnan have been subjected to arbitrary drug testing, which in some instances has led to their being sent to abusive “rehabilitation centers.” Every male refugee interviewed by Human Rights Watch was randomly tested for drug use by local authorities, in some cases repeatedly over time, citing it as their second most troublesome difficulty in Yunnan after securing shelter. Upon submitting to humiliating roadside urine tests, refugees who are told they test positive for illegal drug use are given the option to pay unaffordable cash fines on the spot or face incarceration for two years, beginning that day. Two Kachin men interviewed by Human Rights Watch were detained, tested, and sentenced to two years in an abusive Rehabilitation Through Labor center. In detention, they were forced to work in textiles and cutting jade without compensation, and they were subject to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.
“We are facing problems in supporting the needs of the refugees. We are nearly out of money to buy food and medicine.... We have supported them for nine months already with the support of the Kachin community, some communities from Burma, and faith groups. Over the last nine months, we got very limited funds from INGOs [international nongovernmental organizations]. Now local people have limited money to support them again.”
Source: Human Rights Watch