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Rights Group Urges China to Protect Burmese Refugees


An elderly Kachin refugee and children, inside a shelter, look after the belongings of others who were out working near the China-Burma border in Yunnan province, China, August 11, 2012.

An elderly Kachin refugee and children, inside a shelter, look after the belongings of others who were out working near the China-Burma border in Yunnan province, China, August 11, 2012.

Human Rights Watch says several thousand ethnic-Kachin refugees who fled fighting in Burma now face a serious human rights situation in southwest China and risk being forcibly returned to their war-torn homeland.

The group says as many as 10,000 people have fled to China's Yunnan province from Burma's Kachin state, where heavy fighting broke out last year between the army and Kachin rebels.

Phil Robertson, the deputy director for the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, says the refugees are in desperate need of humanitarian aid.

"They're facing a very difficult humanitarian situation. You have about 7,000 to 10,000 Kachin refugees scattered around 12 or more makeshift camps," he said. "They're lacking adequate food, no potable water, inadequate sanitation, inadequate shelter."

The group says Chinese authorities have "generally tolerated" the thousands of refugees. But it says officials have repatriated about 300 people to Kachin state since the conflict erupted last year. It has also documented cases where Chinese officials have turned away potential refugees at the border.

Human Rights Watch wants China to provide temporary protection and allow humanitarian agencies free access to the refugee population.

So far, China has provided no aid to the displaced persons and has rejected attempts by United Nations humanitarian agencies to access the refugees.

"China needs to respect refugee rights, and it needs to provide humanitarian access to these refugees, including by UNHCR," said Robertson. "And it needs to recognize that there needs to be some temporary protection for these refugees until it is safe to go home."

At least 60,000 Kachin people have been displaced since June 2011, when fighting broke out between the military and the Kachin Independence Army, ending a 17-year ceasefire.
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