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After more than five decades of military rule, Myanmar's new government is undertaking high-level policy reforms in its desire to emerge from international isolation. Since the nominally civilian government came to power in March 2011, the Parliament has passed a number of laws which have allowed public demonstrations, and liberalized restrictions on the media, the Internet, and trade unions. Nobel Peace Prize winner Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her party have been allowed to re-register and will run in the by-elections in April 2012. Despite the progressive rhetoric, the implementation of these policies will be a long-term effort, requiring the support of the international community.

Until the devastation of Cyclone Nargis in 2008, international assistance to Myanmar was extremely limited. While the UK and the European Union have increased funding in recent years, the U.S. has provided minimal humanitarian assistance inside the country. Myanmar receives an average of less than $5 in international assistance per person – compared with $48 per capita for Cambodia, and $66 per capita for Laos. It is now time for the U.S. government to capitalize on the reforms and significantly increase humanitarian assistance and support the growing capacity of local civil society actors.

Current Humanitarian Situation
Despite the promise of reforms, humanitarian needs persist. An estimated 500,000 people are displaced by conflict in eastern Myanmar and another 800,000 Muslims in western Myanmar, known as the Rohingya, are stateless and lack the most basic of human rights. On June 3, 2012, inter-communal violence erupted between the Rakhine and the Rohingya communities, which quickly evolved into large-scale, state-sponsored violence against the Rohingya. Rohingya who subsequently fled were denied refuge by Bangladesh, and urgent measures must be taken to protect this vulnerable population. A number of conflicts with ethnic armed groups also persist, and have forced approximately 3 million people to flee to neighboring countries. The government will need to invest significant political effort to translate various ceasefires with these groups into sustainable peace. For refugees from eastern Myanmar, return to their homes may not be realized due to the extensive use of landmines by all parties to the conflict.

*Refugees International referred to Myanmar as Burma until May 2013. In recognition of the country's ongoing political reforms and its multiethnic character, RI will now use the term Myanmar. 

Field Reports
  • 03/17/2014
    As Myanmar continues its renewed engagement with the international community, it must begin to address the serious violations of the rights of ethnic minorities that plague the country. It is time for the international community to change its ad hoc approach to Myanmar. Key donors and the United Nations must coordinate their advocacy and use consistent messaging to push the Myanmar government to address the root causes of the abuses suffered by ethnic minorities.
  • 05/29/2013
    In its rush to normalize relations with Myanmar, the international community – particularly the United Nations – must not ignore the increase in abuses being committed against ethnic minorities in Rakhine and Kachin States, and it must take a stronger stance in defense of the human rights of affected populations. Ten months after violence forced them into displacement camps in central Rakhine State, Rohingyas are living in fear of multiple dangers: flooding and disease caused by the rainy season, indefinite periods of displacement and segregation and the consolidation of ethnic cleansing, arbitrary arrests, being forced by officials to sign away their rights to citizenship, and a lack of protection from further attacks. Meanwhile, in Kachin State, a peace agreement remains out of reach almost two years after conflict there resumed. Roughly 100,000 people are stuck in displacement camps, and international humanitarian agencies are being denied access to the tens of thousands living in non-government controlled areas.
In Depth Reports
  • 03/11/2009
    The world community is no longer silent about statelessness. In recent years, countries such as Bangladesh, Estonia, Mauritania, Nepal, and Sri Lanka have made significant strides to protect the rights of stateless persons.
  • 06/01/2006
    Burma is experiencing one of the most neglected humanitarian and human rights crises in the world. No less than half a million people are internally displaced in the eastern part of the country and at least one million more have fled to neighboring nations. This report provides an in-depth look at the causes of displacement in Burma, the acute needs of the internally displaced population and the current response to those needs.
Congressional Testimony
In July 2013, RI and supporters demanded that the U.S. Congress renew a ban on the importation of Myanmar gemstones, which fuel corruption and human rights abuses in ethnic minority regions. While Congress did not act, President Obama signed an executive order to extend the ban.