Friday, August 31, 2012

US says China should create ‘protection program’ for Kachin refugees

Friday, 31 August 2012 14:09 Mizzima News

The United States on Thursday criticized China following reports that it returned Kachin refugees to Burma despite ongoing fighting.

“We indeed remain concerned about the welfare of vulnerable Kachin on the China-Burma border. We have urged China to implement a temporary protection program for those seeking refuge from the conflict,” said State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell.

Kachin refugees in Lay Ying Photo: KNG

“The US government believes that the refugees should only return home by their own choice and in conditions of safety and dignity,” he said.

According to the Kachin Independence Organization and Human Rights Watch, China is forcing thousands of Kachin refugees to leave the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan and return to northern Burma where up to 70 displaced people are housed in temporary shelters and food and medicine is in short supply.

China's foreign ministry refuted allegations of forced returns of refugees, saying they had crossed back “by their own volition when the fighting had ceased.”

In recent months, Burma’s government has signed cease-fire agreements with several ethnic minority rebel groups, but negotiations with the Kachin have so far been unsuccessful and sporadic fighting continues, displacing villagers.

More than 4,000 refugees were in six Chinese refugee camps in Nongdao, said Dwe P Sar.

KIO officials have scrambled to take care of the returning refugees, who are being sent back in separate groups.

 The New York-based Human Rights Watch recently issued a report titled “Isolated in Yunnan” saying that 1,000 Kachin refugees fled to Yunnan, China, on June 26, but Chinese authorities forced them to return [to Kachin State]. In response, on June 27, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said that Chinese authorities were still helping Burmese citizens who have taken refuge in China and they did not force refugees to return. China refuted similar reports again last week.

Since then reports have continued to maintain that Kachine refugees are being sent back, with most refugees saving they do not want to return to Burma at this time because of the military clashes.

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