Governor Bill Richardson and a team from the Richardson Center for Global Engagement have just completed a private humanitarian mission to Myanmar.
“I have been a friend to the people of Myanmar for nearly 30 years,” said Governor Richardson, “and I came here at the invitation of the Minister of Foreign Affairs Wunna Maung Lwin to address the COVID-19 pandemic and humanitarian assistance.” Governor Richardson believes that Myanmar’s 55 million people should not be denied access to COVID-19 vaccines and humanitarian assistance because of the current political crisis.
During a productive visit, Governor Richardson met with the Commander in Chief, Minster of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Health, Minister of Social Welfare, Minister of International Cooperation, and Minister of Home Affairs. Governor Richardson also briefed Ambassadors and representatives from the United States, the UK, EU, Australia, Canada, India, Japan, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland, as well as the UN Resident Coordinator, UNOPS, UNOCHA, UNICEF, WHO, and the International Committee for the Red Cross.
“The main focus of my discussions was to identify specific ways to speed the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines from the COVAX facility to Myanmar and to help mitigate a possible fourth wave of COVID-19,” Governor Richardson said.
Governor Richardson put forward proposals to build trust and confidence in the vaccine delivery process. For example, exploring the possibility of a test run of two million COVID-19 vaccines through COVAX and establishing joint and embedded teams to allow the UN to monitor the distribution and administration of vaccines, thus mitigating some concerns among donor countries and others.
“If COVAX can successfully deliver COVID-19 vaccines,” Governor Richardson added, “I think it will open the door to the resumption of childhood immunizations and other critical health interventions. UN agencies will be key to finalizing a deal.”
Governor Richardson recommended specific humanitarian interventions, including: streamlining the travel authorization process, including by committing to deciding on requests for travel authorization within one month, to enable the UN, humanitarian The Richardson Center for Global Engagement 216 Washington Avenue l Santa Fe, NM 87501 Office (505) 989-7955 l Fax (505) 988-7094
agencies, and their partners to deliver humanitarian assistance, particularly to displaced populations; granting access to humanitarian agencies to conduct assessments in Kayah State, an area in great need of humanitarian assistance and to which access remains blocked; allowing the delivery of food assistance to 11,000 newly displaced people in Kani and Mingin in Sagaing Region; and resuming wellness visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross to prisoners, which remain suspended because of COVID-19 concerns.
Governor Richardson also proposed that The Richardson Center conduct trainings on food security and water distribution as they have done in the past.
“I am also happy to announce that on November 3rd, I secured the release of a young woman, Aye Moe, from prison. Aye Moe used to work for my Center leading trainings and programs in Myanmar focused on women’s empowerment,” Governor Richardson added.
Though the focus of the mission was humanitarian, Governor Richardson also encouraged Myanmar authorities to engage with the UN and ASEAN Special Envoys, suggesting creative solutions to break the current impasse.
While Governor Richardson acknowledged that the situation is complex and that he was not able to address all aspects of the challenges Myanmar is currently facing, he was encouraged by the receptivity of the Myanmar authorities, donor countries, and UN agencies to these proposals. Governor Richardson is confident that his mission opened space for improvement in the humanitarian situation and urged the humanitarian and diplomatic community to realize his suggestions.
Accompanying Governor Richardson were former US Ambassador Cameron Hume, Richardson Center Vice President and Executive Director Mickey Bergman, and Richardson Center Senior Advisor and Program Director Steve Ross.