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Yesterday, 9th July, Baroness Cox delivered a speech on the refugee crises in Burma and Sudan and the urgent need for cross-border aid, as part of a House of Lords debate on refugees and migrants from Africa and Asia.
The debate was initiated by a motion put forward by Lord Alton, “That this House takes note of the displacement of refugees and migrants from Asia and Africa and to the long-term and short-term measures to address their plight”. The debate was wide-ranging, with Lord Alton’s opening speech touching on the record number of refugees worldwide (54.9 million in 2014, according to the UNHCR, plus a further 59.5 million forcibly displaced), and the migration crisis at Europe’s borders. But Lord Alton also stressed that “Those numbing statistics tell only a part of the story. What surely matters most is why people are risking their lives and what our response should be. It is abundantly clear that populations will continue to haemorrhage unless we tackle the reasons for these vast displacements at source.”
Baroness Cox’s speech revealed other parts of the story not suggested by the worldwide figures or the picture presented by the media. Drawing on her own recent visits to the affected countries, she drew attention to Burma and Sudan, areas where refugees are “largely inaccessible to international aid organisations [and] off the radar screen of the international media.”
Baroness Cox described the Sudanese Government’s shocking attacks on its own people, including the use of cluster bombs dropped on civilians in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states. “In Sudan, there are an estimated 3.1 million internally displaced persons: 2.5 million in Darfur and more than half a million in the Two Areas [Blue Nile and South Kordofan],” she said. “Some 3.7 million people in Sudan face crisis and stressed levels of acute food insecurity, and that number is likely to reach 4.2 million during the July to September so-called peak lean season”.
The situation in Burma is also worsening, Baroness Cox said. As well as the crisis among the Rohingya population in Rakhine State, conflicts between the Burmese Government and ethnic groups in Shan and Kachin States have forced more than half a million to flee to neighbouring countries, and a further 600,000 have been internally displaced. Unscrupulous mega-developments, including dams and mining projects, are causing further displacement and fuelling conflict. Not only this, but the aid that is reaching the displaced peoples is woefully insufficient – the allowance for those in camps in Kachin State has been reduced to the equivalent of less than 20 US cents a day. Even that small amount often does not reach those who need it, since over 50% of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Kachin and Shan States are in non-government controlled areas, and so remain inaccessible to government aid channels.
“In this context,” Baroness Cox said, “the decision of the UK Government and DfID to refrain from providing any cross-border aid to civilians trapped behind closed borders in Sudan and to reduce cross-border aid to community-based organisations working across the border in Burma, other than the Thai-Burma Border Consortium, is immensely disturbing.” She described the inspiring and effective efforts that the community-based organisations with which HART works are making to help refugees and IDPs, often across borders, and said that she hoped “Her Majesty’s Government and DfID will reconsider their position on working with such community-based organisations.”
Baroness Cox concluded by highlighting three priorities essential for both Burma and Sudan. The first was to work to end the impunity with which the governments of Burma and Sudan have been committing human rights abuses against their own people. Second was the need for “the international community to promote political solutions which will bring genuine peace and justice for all civilians.” And third, of greatest short-term importance, was the need for immediate intervention with cross-border aid to help those trapped in areas where their own governments are denying them help.
“I sincerely hope,” Baroness Cox concluded, “that the Minister will be able to offer reassurance as to how the United Kingdom will contribute to the international community’s duty to protect these civilians, and provide life-saving humanitarian aid to the refugees and displaced people currently dying at the hands of their own Governments in Sudan and Burma.”
You can read the full text of Baroness Cox’s speech by downloading the document below.