While Myanmar prepares to begin repatriating Rohingya Muslim refugees who fled to neighboring Bangladesh to escape violence during military crackdowns in northern Rakhine state in 2016 and 2017, government officials are continuing with a plan to close internally displaced persons (IDP) camps at home. Win Myat Aye, Myanmar’s minister for social welfare, relief, and resettlement, is overseeing the effort. He chairs a government committee created in September 2017 to implement the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, a group led by former Unirted Nations chief Kofi Annan. The commission called for reviews of the country’s 1982 Citizenship Law, which prevents the Rohingya from becoming citizens, the closure of IDP camps, and an end to restrictions on the Rohingya minority to prevent further violence in the region. Last April, the Rakhine state government said it would shutter three camps housing Kaman Muslims, ethnic Rakhine people, and Rohingya Muslims who have been living in them since 2012 when they were displaced by communal violence. In an interview with Khin Khin Ei of RFA’s Myanmar Service, Win Myat Aye discusses plans to close additional IDP camps.
RFA: Why have authorities decided to close the Thetkaepyin Muslim IDP camp?
Win Myat Aye: These camps have been in existence since 2012. Since the NLD [National League for Democracy] government took power [in April 2016], it has planned to close these camps because people’s access to education and health care and their participation in the economy have been blocked because they are residing in these camps. The Kofi Annan Commission’s report also suggested closing the IDP camps.
We have closed some camps, but our plans were halted because of the attacks [by Muslim militants in northern Rakhine state] in August 2017. We have begun this plan now. Thetkaepyin is the big camp in [Rakhine’s capital] Sittwe. I have talked with government and camp officials to close this camp, and we have agreed to do it. We will continue the discussions to hammer out the details. We went to Myebon [township] and talked with officials to close a camp there as well. They are working with us to close it.
RFA: We have heard something about this plan, but some people don’t like the idea of closing the camp. What will you do about that?
Win Myat Aye: We are doing it for the good of all, and it is what we should do. I am surprised to learn that some people don’t like it and wonder who those people could be.
RFA: Where will you let them resettle?
Win Myat Aye: We have the Disaster Management Law [under which the president can declare a state of emergency in an area for a period of time if peoples' lives and property as well as the natural environment are dramatically affected and if rehabilitation will be needed]. We have been choosing places where they will have job opportunities.
RFA: What kind of jobs can be created for them?
Win Myat Aye: There are many development plans and projects in Rakhine state. Even after the Aug. 25 attacks, we created the Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development in Rakhine State (UEHRD), so there will be many job opportunities available under it. We will create jobs in the fishing industry and in industrial zones. Something important for them is to be able to travel freely. According to law, they will be recognized as people who live in Myanmar if they hold national verification cards.
RFA: Do you think there will be problems with closing the IDP camps as long as the Buddhist ethnic Rakhine people and the Muslims don’t completely trust each other?
Win Myat Aye: It is very important to think about the time when we will have trust in each other. When we work on solving a problem, we have to strike a balance between stability and development. If we have stability, we will have development. Also, if we have development, we will have more stability. For development to be fruitful, we must work on what we are doing now. Working towards development, especially in education, is very important. If people are not educated, they can become extremists, and they can easily be persuaded by others.
Reported by Khin Khin Ei for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.