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The forgotten dream of a safe place to call home in Myanmar

Christian Aid's Head of Programme Development Karol Balfe reflects on the often forgotten internally displaced people in Myanmar.

World attention in 2016 has rightly focused on issues of refugees and global migration flows. Such huge movements of people make the world feel a little more uncertain. This scale of movement hasn't been seen since World War II. Two major global processes in 2016 – the UN Summit on Refugees and Migration in New York and the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul – attempted to address these flows of people. Despite these efforts, we seem unable to adequately respond. Whether it's violence that causes people to flee or disasters that destroy lives – we seem unable as a world to adequately respond. Sixty-five million displaced. Each of them has lost a home, lost their place in the world, lost their sense of certainty in the world.

Much of this attention has rightly focused on areas such as Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, and South Sudan. Often forgotten in these global discussions are the internally displaced people in Myanmar – a country that feels so far out of the global spotlight and a group of people that feel utterly forgotten by the world. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, almost 700,000 people were internally displaced in Myanmar as a result of conflict and violence. The majority of these internally displaced people are in Rakhine state, followed by Kachin and northern Shan states. In Rakhine state, the overwhelming majority of internally displaced people live in camps. Most are Muslims, the remainder are Buddhists. More than 51 percent are girls and women, with more than 54 percent children. In Kachin and northern Shan, 87 percent of internally displaced people live in camps, half of them in areas not controlled by the government. More than 52 percent are girls and women, while more than 49 percent are children.

These communities need shelter, water, education, livelihood opportunities and health services. Too often for the internally displaced people living in camps in Myanmar – of every religion – the conditions are unhygienic, cramped, privacy is limited or non-existent and the threat of conflict and violence is very palpable. For many within crowded camps, particularly women, this threat of violence manifests in the threat of gender-based violence. For some Muslims in Rakhine, their movement is completely restricted and not only are they displaced they are in effect imprisoned. Similarly, Buddhist communities in internally displaced camps in Rakhine feel fear, face hunger and are neglected. Christian Aid has worked in Myanmar for more than twenty-five years and aims to support these communities to thrive and be resilient. Our partners in Myanmar are working to shine a light on these forgotten people. Organisations such as Metta and the Lutheran World Federation are working to respond to urgent humanitarian needs and support people who are displaced from their homes to live with as much dignity as they possibly can.

While the humanitarian needs of internally displaced communities are clear- so too are their dreams. The majority of internally displaced people in Myanmar want to return home. They want to feel safe in their own homes, back again on their own land- living free from fear and violence. These dreams may only happen when peace becomes more than aspirational in Myanmar. Recent government reforms and the initiation of peace processes at various levels offer a distant future dream of people actually being able to return home. However, decades of military rule and conflict mean that in reality, these dreams will take a long time to realise. Inter-ethnic and inter-religious tensions are deeply embedded throughout the country and for people forced to be away from their home – the pace of promised change feels too slow.

Yet somehow despite the scale of the challenges facing the world now to respond to displacement, the global movement of people fleeing violence and the uncertainty this brings – we must not forget those in Myanmar. Those forgotten people who just dream of their home, and being able to be safe there once again – Christian Aid and its partners will continue to shine a light on their dreams.

by Karol Balfe, Head of Tackling Violence, Building Peace