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Aid workers in Rakhine State say access limited in some areas

Nearly 75,000 people living in temporary camps and shelters following inter-communal conflict in Burma’s Rakhine State in June face deteriorating living conditions, say local aid workers and residents.

This file picture taken on June 12, 2012, shows a resident riding her bicycle past burned houses amid ongoing violence in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State in Burma.  
This file picture taken on June 12, 2012, shows a resident riding her bicycle past burned houses amid ongoing violence in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State in Burma.    
As of 25 September, the government estimated some 72,000 from the (mainly Muslim) Rohingya ethnic group and almost 3,000 people from the (mainly Buddhist) Rakhine ethnic group are displaced in the region, IRIN, a UN humanitarian news service, said in an article on its website on Thursday.

They are staying in 40 camps and temporary sites in Sittwe and Kyauktaw townships, from where they are still able to access schools and work, IRIN said.

Immediately after the outbreak of violence in June, aid agencies visited areas in four affected townships and identified sanitation and clean water as major needs. At the time, only about 30 per cent of the surveyed displaced persons had access to clean water, while six out of 10 people did not have any way to store it even if they secured some, said IRIN.

A number of camps had only one latrine serving 100 persons. Little has changed in recent months, said Mohammad Nawsim, the secretary of the Rohingya Human Rights Association (RHRA) based in Bangkok.

Nawsim said that many young and elderly Rohingya in the temporary camps along the road leading west out of Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State, are falling ill due to poor living conditions.

Phil Robertson, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division based in Bangkok, told IRIN the displaced are “effectively restricted to camps by both the security forces and by the violent attacks they fear from the Rakhine [community].”

Most Muslims have shuttered their former businesses and left Sittwe after the authorities ordered their departure, said Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, an advocacy organization for the Rohingya.

While supplies and relief are getting into the camps, delivery is still hampered, she said.

Based on her visits to the displaced in Sittwe with the NGO Refugees International at the end of September, she said: “Many of the staff of the NGOs are local workers and are afraid to go to the Muslim camps – not so much that they are afraid to be attacked by Muslims in the camps, but they are mostly afraid that if the Rakhine Buddhists see that they are assisting the Muslims, they will be attacked by their own community.”

According to a September 4 report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “humanitarian partners remain concerned that access is still limited to some affected areas and townships outside of Sittwe,” which includes aid groups working with Rohingya before the most recent bloodshed, which have now been forced to discontinue their services.

International aid workers report being unable to get travel authorization to work in affected northern townships in Rakhine State, including Maungdaw, which borders on Bangladesh and where almost 500 homes were burnt down in the violence, IRIN said.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled persecution in Burma over the past three decades, the vast majority to Bangladesh in the 1990s.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Burma’s President Thein Sein discussed how to address the root causes of inter-communal tensions in Rakhine State, including through development efforts, on 29 September at the recent UN General Assembly meeting in New York. The president said the government would address the needs.  

The Burmese government signed a memorandum of understanding with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in mid-August to facilitate OIC partner organizations’ humanitarian assistance to displaced Rohingya. The head of international relief and development of Qatar Red Crescent Society, Khaled Diab, told IRIN his chapter will carry out relief work estimated at US$ 1.5 million among displaced Rohingya over the next six months – and possibly longer depending on funding – in health, shelter, water and sanitation.

A multi-agency Rakhine Response Plan estimated it will take some $32.5 million to cover basic emergency needs until the end of the year for an estimated 80,000 displaced.

“Most people in the camps believe they will never be able to go back to the town, even though the government says the camps are only temporary,” Arakan Project's Lewa said.

According to the UN database, which records international humanitarian aid, the Financial Tracking Service, and not-yet-recorded recent donor announcements, some $11 million has been pledged or contributed to humanitarian assistance in Rakhine State this year.
Last Updated ( Friday, 05 October 2012 13:58 )  

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