Burma: UN ‘Alarmed’ at Violence, Calls for Access to Displaced People in Rakhine


Human Wrongs Watch

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) expressed alarm at renewed violence in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state over the past week, which the government says has displaced more than 28,000 people.

Since inter-communal violence flared up again on October 21 in parts of Myanmar’s Rakhine state, thousands of people have fled on boats towards the state capital Sittwe.

 “It is clearly urgent that law and order be restored to prevent further violence, and that access is facilitated so that aid can be provided to those in need,” UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told journalists in Geneva.

Since a new wave of inter-communal unrest began on October 21, the Rakhine state authorities estimate that dozens of people have been killed and more than 4,600 homes burnt in the townships of Minbya, Myebon, Mrauk-U, Pauk Taw, Rathedaung, Kyauk Phyu, Ramree and Kyauk Taw, Anna Little reported* on UNHCR.

Widespread Destruction, Displacement

Last weekend, UNHCR joined an inter-agency visit to some of the affected areas. “We saw widespread destruction and displacement. Our staff noted that many of the internally displaced people are in extremely hard-to-reach areas,” Edwards said.

More than 3,000 people have fled in boats towards the state capital, Sittwe, to seek assistance in existing camps for internally displaced people (IDP), according to UNHCR‘s report on 30 October 2012.

The camps in and around Sittwe are already hosting most of the 75,000 people who remain displaced from the wave of violence that broke out in Rakhine state in June this year.

With the new influx, these already overcrowded camps are being stretched beyond capacity in terms of space, shelter and basic supplies such as food and water. Food prices in the area have doubled and there are not enough doctors to treat the sick and wounded, UNHCR adds.

Thousands Stranded on Boats or on Islets

Many displaced people have also found shelter with communities near and in the IDP camps at Sittwe, while unknown numbers have fled into the hills in locations such as Pauk Taw and Myebon. It is estimated that another 6,000 people are stranded on boats or on islets along Myanmar’s western coast. They are looking for safe access to places where they can receive assistance.

Some affected people remain in their villages, living in poor conditions and waiting in hope that they can rebuild their homes. There are reports that people are receiving threats that their homes will be burnt, prompting some to flee in fear.

Edwards in Geneva said that, as part of the overall UN response and as an immediate measure to address the urgent humanitarian needs, UNHCR was sending tarpaulin supplies to provide shelter for 2,000 people in the villages of Minbya township.

More plastic sheets, blankets and mosquito nets are on their way to Sittwe. This is in addition to relief supplies and basic aid items for around 54,000 people in IDP sites which our teams have distributed over the past few months.

UNHCR is, meanwhile, appealing to neighbouring countries to keep their borders open for those people seeking safety from the unrest in Rakhine state. “We stand ready to assist governments in addressing this evolving humanitarian emergency,” Edwards stressed.

Since inter-communal violence flared up again on October 21 in parts of Myanmar’s Rakhine state, thousands of people have fled on boats towards the state capital Sittwe.

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Rakhine State 

Situated on the western coast of Burma, also known as Myanmar, Rakhine State was formerly called Arakan. The Arakan Mountains, which rise to 3,063 metres at Victoria Peak, separate Rakhine State from central Myanmar.

Rice is the main crop in the region, occupying around 85 per cent of the total agricultural land. Fishing is a major industry, with most of the catch transported to Yangon.

Rakhine State’s population is estimated at around 4 million people, of which the ethnic Rakhine make up the majority. There are other seven ethnic minorities such as Chin, Mro, Chakma, Khami, Dainet, Bengali and Maramagri inhabit mainly in the hill regions of the state. Most of the Tibeto-Burmans living in Rakhine State adhere to Theravada Buddhism. Even the Chin, who are usually related with Protestant Christianity or Animism, adhere to Buddhism due to the cultural influence of the Rakhine people. Myanmar population is estimated at over 60 million inhabitants.

Rakhine state has a large Muslim minority. According to the UN, they are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. Latest estimate indicate that Muslim minority includes currenntly some 800,000 people, who are denied their rights as citizens by the military government which ruled the country since 1962.

3 Responses to “Burma: UN ‘Alarmed’ at Violence, Calls for Access to Displaced People in Rakhine”

  1. UNO should take some immediate steps to restore peace in the country. Peacekeeping forces be sent to protect the minorities. China is the closest neighbor and should do all it can.

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