Myanmar

Country information

Overview

The displacement situation in Myanmar can be described as protracted. A nationwide ceasefire agreement in 2015 and the formation of a democratically elected government in 2016 failed to put a stop to decades of armed civil war in the northeast, where nearly 100,000 people remained displaced as of February 2018. Simultaneously, ethno-religious conflict between the Buddhist majority and the Muslim Rohingya minority has escalated in Rakhine State during the last two years, triggering more than 655,000 cross-border displacements to Bangladesh in 2017. .Additionally, each year natural disasters and non-inclusive development projects continue to generate new internal displacements.

Political and inter-communal conflict and disasters create large numbers of new displacements in Myanmar on a regular basis. In several regions of the country, the contexts and causes of conflict and disaster intertwine to such an extent that it becomes difficult to distinguish displacement triggers. In addition, significant displacement has also arisen in the context of new investments in agribusiness, infrastructure and industrial development. The resulting losses in terms of productive land, access to natural resources and livelihoods generate displacement, as does increased exposure and vulnerability to natural hazards.

New displacements regularly result from disasters as all major natural hazards affect the country to some degree. IDMC’s disaster displacement risk model estimates that sudden-onset disasters are likely to displace an average of more than 560,000 people in Myanmar each year. Regular, widespread flooding and localised landslides are the most devastating hazards and cause the most displacement. The risk of displacement related to disaster is amplified by relatively high levels of socio-economic vulnerability and an institutional lack of coping capacity. In 2017, Tropical Cyclone Mora and the monsoon season triggered about 351,000 displacements.

Conflict takes different forms in Myanmar, with territorial competition, ethnic conflict, religious and inter-communal violence contributing to ever-growing displacement figures. Myanmar’s military has been engaged in armed conflict with ethnic insurgent groups since the country gained independence. The coup in 1962 followed nearly five decades of military rule. In 2015, the country’s first contested national election since 1990 resulted in a victory for the National League for Democracy. Recently, however, the detention of journalists and other restrictions of press freedom have led to concern regarding the democratic transition.

Despite a nationwide ceasefire agreement signed in 2015, several northeastern armed groups - including the Kachin Independency Army, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, the Shan State Army and the Arakan Army - remain in active conflict with the Myanmar army. In late 2017 and early 2018 conflict escalated in Kachin, northern Shan and Chin states, triggering new and secondary displacements. Peace remains precarious in Karen State, where military intervention related to a road construction recently triggered new displacement and military tensions for the first time since September 2016.

In Rakhine State, chronic poverty and competition for resources, combined with historical religious and ethnic tensions between the Rohingya minority and Rakhine’s Buddhist majority, led to inter-communal violence in 2012. In the absence of a programme to tackle the existing deprivation suffered by all of Rakhine’s inhabitants, tensions between the two communities worsened, leading to increased segregation. In 2016 and 2017, attacks by the insurgent Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army triggered major military crackdowns targeting the Muslim minority group. Unprecedented numbers of Rohingya have since fled across the border into Bangladesh. Many are likely to face forced returns in the light of a repatriation deal between the two countries. While reliable data on the Rohingya population remaining in Rakhine State today is sparse, few are believed to still be living there apart from those in the IDP camps.

The country faces a multitude of social, political, economic and environmental challenges that continue to fuel the risk of displacement by conflict and disaster as well as development investment. New land laws and economic policies passed in 2011 and 2012 have enabled the development of special economic zones and the acquisition of fertile lands for large-scale agribusiness, and the plans for those projects are already threatening to cause new displacements. In order to attract foreign direct investment, the government has offered tax holidays, income tax relief, exemption from customs duties and multi-decade land leases. As a result, private companies are increasingly implementing development projects in rural areas. While these projects have the potential to bring benefits to villagers, there is also a continued tendency to disregard their impact on local communities, resulting in land confiscation and the loss of livelihoods.

Myanmar currently ranks 130th among the 176 countries in Transparency International’s corruption index. In an environment where governance concerns about corruption and state impunity continue to exist, economic development is unlikely to yield significant development benefits. The country also faces the risk of economic losses from disasters equivalent to 30 per cent of its annual capital investment. If Myanmar continues to invest without regard for disaster and the related displacement risk, this already unsustainable level of risk will grow exponentially.

In 2017, Myanmar ranked 12th worldwide in terms of new displacement caused by disasters. Flooding affects large parts of the country on a seasonal basis; monsoon rains in mountainous and delta areas displaced 330,000 people between July and September 2017.

In many areas, floods affect already fragile communities that have suffered from years of conflict, easily triggering new displacements. This has been the case in Rakhine State, which hosts more than 128,000 IDPS, where Tropical Cyclone Mora damaged or destroyed 60 per cent of the temporary IDP shelters.

Historically, conflict displacement has been triggered when the military (known as the Tatmadaw) has forcibly relocated civilians from ethnic minority groups in the eastern and south-eastern border states and regions. The Tatmadaw’s relocation orders were usually given at short notice, preventing many from taking their belongings with them before their homes were burned down. The depopulated villages were declared “free-fire zones”, and people who stayed on beyond the relocation deadline faced serious protection risks. These operations have also generated cross-border flows, with more than 93,000 refugees now remaining in camps in Thailand.

In 2017, about 57,000 new conflict displacements were recorded. Most displacement took place in the states of Rakhine, Shan and Kachin, which continue to suffer from active conflict. Some villages saw repeated displacement, and many IDPs have been displaced several times, in certain instances across the border into China. The conflict in Kachin and Shan states is characterised by intense competition for resources such as jade, gold and amber, prompting fighting and displacement in mining areas.

Ethnic minorities have been disproportionally affected by the impacts of conflict and by related human rights violations. Remnants of armed conflict such as landmines and unexploded ordnance add to the obstacles IDPs face in returning home.

Stateless Rohingya and other Muslim IDPs in Rakhine State face particular challenges due to their legal status vis-à-vis the government and systematic discrimination. Access to health facilities and hospitals is limited for the Muslim population. Segregation and restrictions on freedom of movement also significantly impact livelihood opportunities among the IDPs. As a result of the protracted displacement situation, the majority of the IDPs living in camps are heavily dependent on food assistance. The deterioration of humanitarian access to conflict-affected populations in Rakhine in 2016 and 2017 had a detrimental impact on access to basic goods such as food and healthcare. Despite serious concerns about civilian safety, humanitarian access to northern Rakhine remains severely restrained.

In Kachin and northern Shan states, government control is weak, and a significant proportion of the displaced people stay in camps outside government control, meaning that international humanitarian agencies have little access to them. Significant protection concerns in the camps include but are not limited to disappearances, killings, shelling in the proximity of the camps, forced recruitment, and gender-based violence.

The primary data sources for Myanmar are the CCCM Cluster/Myanmar Shelter Cluster, and the Border Consortium. Key challenges related to data collection are the lack of access to many non-government controlled areas in Myanmar and insufficient funding to produce updated estimates on non-camp IDPs. The CCCM Cluster/Myanmar Shelter Cluster provide detailed data on IDPs in camps in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan North, and estimates for those living in nearby host communities and in boarding schools. The Border Consortium has historically reported on IDPs in the southeast (Karen, Karenni, Shan South and Mon states, as well as the Tanintharyi and Bago East regions); however, no comprehensive assessment has been made since 2012. At that time, a survey based on key informant interviews identified some 400,000 IDPs. To update this estimate, IDMC has also taken into account UNHCR returns assessments, which provide partial IDP returnee estimates for the southeast, excluding Shan South. Still, IDMC has low confidence in the estimate for the southeast. For the new displacement, IDMC has also relied on events monitoring, based on reports published by the aforementioned sources, as well as by OCHA, local civil society organisations and media.

Latest GRID confidence assessment
Displacement type Returnees (Stock) New Displacement (Flow) Return (Flow) IDPs (Stock)
Reporting units
People
People
People
People
Households
Methodology
Key informants
Media monitoring
Registration
Media monitoring
Key informants
Registration
Media monitoring
Key informants
Registration
Key informants
Media monitoring
Satellite imagery
Registration
Geographical disaggregation Admin 2 or more Admin 2 or more Admin 2 or more Admin 2 or more
Geographical coverage Partial coverage Partial coverage Partial coverage Partial coverage
Frequency of reporting Other Other Other More than once a month
Disaggregation on sex No No No Partial
Disaggregation on age No No No Partial
Data triangulation Some local triangulation Some local triangulation Some local triangulation Some local triangulation
Data on settlement elsewhere Partial Partial Partial Partial
Data on returns Yes Yes Yes Partial
Data on local integration No No No No
Data on deaths No No No No
Data on births No No No No

Latest GRID figures analysis

This figure is based on data compiled by the CCCM Cluster/Myanmar Shelter Cluster, the Border Consortium (TBC), UNOSAT, UNHCR, the Government of Myanmar, the Protection Sector, and the Chin state government. The figure for the southeast is based on decaying data, first published by TBC in 2012 and triangulated in 2014. To update this estimate, IDMC has taken into account UNHCR returns assessments, which provide partial IDP returnee estimates for the southeast. IDMC’s research does not fully support removing these caseloads as comprehensive data on return movements, relocations, and local integration in the southeast is lacking

Download extended figures analysis (PDF, 578 KB)

Latest GRID stock figure by year of data update