UN seeks access to Burmese refugees in southern China

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is seeking access to thousands of Burmese refugees who have fled fighting between Myanmar government troops and ethnic minority groups, saying their needs should be assessed.

“We are working together with the Chinese authorities to try to get access to the area,” said Kitty McKinsey, regional spokeswoman for UNHCR.

“While we believe their material needs are being taken care of, we haven’t been able to assess what their needs for international protection are,” she told IRIN in Bangkok on 1 September.

Thousands of ethnic Chinese refugees from Myanmar’s northeastern Shan state have streamed into China’s southern Yunnan province in recent weeks to escape the fighting, which started after the Myanmar army moved into Kokang, a region bordering Yunnan.

Citing Chinese government figures, McKinsey said 37,000 Burmese had crossed the border into Yunnan province. Of these, 13,000 are staying in tents provided by the provincial authorities, while the rest are being accommodated by friends and relatives.

“The Yunnan provincial authorities are giving medical care, shelters, tents and clothing,” said McKinsey.

China is one of the few countries in Asia that has signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, which McKinsey said obliged the country to allow the UN Refugee Agency to assess first-hand the needs of the refugees.