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HRW: China must provide for Myanmar refugees

Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Tuesday issued a report [text, PDF; press release] documenting refugee abuse and urging the government of China to provide basic food and shelter needs to thousands of refugees fleeing sectarian violence in neighboring Myanmar [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Escalating violence between the Myanmar Army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has put thousands of ethnic Kachin civilians in the country at risk. HRW noted that although China has generally accepted the Myanmar refugees into its borders, they typically live in poor conditions without access to adequate food, shelter, or health care. Additionally, HRW reported that the Chinese authorities arbitrarily turn away some refugees, and force others back into war-torn areas of Myanmar. The report also alleges that Myanmar refugees in China are subject to abuse by Chinese authorities, including random road-side drug testing, detention, and arbitrary fines, all without due process of law. The rights group noted that China is a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention [materials] and is required under international law to provide assistance to refugees. They called on China to immediately institute temporary protection measures for the refugees and provide them with adequate food and shelter.

Escalating conflict in Myanmar has led to international concerns. Earlier this month, HRW urged Bangladesh [JURIST report] to open its borders to Myanmar refugees. Also this month, HRW urged Myanmar to ensure the safety of communities [JURIST report] in the Arakan State. President Thein Sein [official website, in Burmese] issued a state of emergency in the area on Sunday, turning over police power to the Burmese Army, but HRW warned that without international overview, such intervention could make matters worse. Despite calls and demands by international communities to end the violence in Myanmar, the government has thus far failed to control the violence and protect civilians. In March, HRW reported that violence and rights abuses continue [JURIST report] in Myanmar's northern state of Kachin due to the conflict between Myanmar's armed forces and the KIA. During the same month, Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar urged the country to ensure the protection of human rights [JURIST report]. In November, Human rights group Partners Relief and Development issued a report which alleged that the army may be committing war crimes [JURIST report] including torture and forced labor against ethnic communities in Kachin state.

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