The UK Government’s Response to the Myanmar Crisis Contents

4Humanitarian support

30.The cost of the ongoing crisis to civilians is serious and growing. The military crackdown has reportedly displaced as many as a quarter of a million people.33 In April 2021, the UN World Food Programme estimated that, within the next six months, up to 3.4 million more people would be hungry.34 In oral evidence, Naw K’nyaw Paw, General Secretary of the Karen Peace Support Network, told us:

There is an urgent need for increased aid for refugees, IDPs and people from the [civil disobedience movement] … We would like the UK Government to prioritise cross-border aid through local grassroots organisations to the ethnic areas of Burma, including Karen state, and to put pressure on the Thai Government to stop forcing refugees back to the conflict zone and blocking aid to IDPs.35

31.Written evidence sets out that humanitarian access appears ‘uncontroversial’ to the permanent Security Council members, and that there are previous examples of Security Council resolutions securing cross-border humanitarian access.36 We believe that achieving consensus on humanitarian access and humanitarian support to Myanmar is possible and should be a priority for the Government.

32.The UK should use the UN system to build consensus on the need for humanitarian assistance within Myanmar, emphasising fundamental requirements such as healthcare and basic provisions. This should be done using a mechanism that will compel or encourage other countries to act, such as a resolution or statement at the Security Council or the General Assembly. Doing so will reaffirm certain countries’ commitment to provide humanitarian support and apply pressure to those who have not done so as yet.

33.Many countries are evidently turning away refugees fleeing the violence in Myanmar. There are reports of officials in Indian border states being told to “politely turn away” refugees from Myanmar, with around 100 Myanmar refugees reportedly being deported from the Indian border village of Farkawn in late March.37 Evidence from Fortify Rights said that, in May 2021, Thai officials returned “at least” 2,000 refugees fleeing violence.38 These countries have a legal responsibility and obligation to support the principle of non-refoulement, which stipulates that countries will not deport people back to a country where they will likely face persecution.39 The UK should encourage countries in the region to meet these responsibilities.40

34.The Government should use its diplomatic influence to encourage border countries such as Thailand and India to accept more refugees from Myanmar, and to meet their commitments of non-refoulement and support them as they do so, through channels including human rights and governance focused aid projects. It should also encourage these countries to allow cross-border aid to reach Myanmar citizens impacted by the coup.

35.We heard that the UK Government’s historic approach to aid in Myanmar has been too centrally focused.41 The European Karen Network said:

During the period of the [National League for Democracy]-led42 civilian government, all the way up to the military coup, more and more international aid went through the central government, sidestepping genuine grass-roots organisations, including ethnic organisations with real knowledge, skills and infrastructure to run truly functional and efficient projects in their own areas.43

36.We support the Government’s efforts to prevent UK aid spending from benefiting the junta. However, we recognise that many local groups are in need of support, and the Government’s unwillingness to fund the junta should not also mean an unwillingness to assist civil society overall. We heard from Thinzar Shunlei Yi, Advocacy Coordinator at the Action Committee for Democracy Development, that providing funds to local ethnic groups would be more effective than large, international NGOs.44

37.There are also unique challenges to getting money to organisations in-country, due to paralysis in the Myanmar banking sector. This is another area in which the UK Government and organisations may be able to help, as the UK’s world-leading expertise in financial solutions may be useful in finding innovative solutions to this problem.45

38.We recommend that the Government explore innovative ways of providing financial support to of civil society organisations. Aid spending should be funnelled to civil society and grassroots organisations who are doing invaluable on-the-ground work to support those suffering under the junta. Organisations providing tailored support to different ethnic groups should also be specifically targeted for assistance.

33 Answer Myanmar - Alliance for Peace (MYA0047) para 4

34 United Nations World Food Programme, WFP to step up operations in response to fast rising hunger in Myanmar, 22 April 2021

35 Q5 [Naw K’nyaw Paw]

36 Answer Myanmar - Alliance for Peace (MYA0047) para 14

37 CSW (MYA0019) p 3

38 Fortify Rights (MYA0040) para 4.1

39 United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, The principle of non-refoulement under international human rights law, accessed 22 June 2021

40 Global Movement for Myanmar Democracy (MYA0013) para 10

41 Q1 [Naw K’nyaw Paw]

42 Myanmar’s previous ruling party

43 European Karen Network (MYA0030) para 10

44 Q6 [Thinzar Shunlei Yi]

45 British Chamber of Commerce Myanmar (MYA0028) p 2

Published: 16 July 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement