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“The situation in Rakhine is quite fragile and critical”

Posted by African Press International on October 24, 2013

Tomás Ojea Quintana

BUENOS AIRES,  – Myanmar’s government has signed individual ceasefire agreements with 14 main non-state armed groups since 2011, and is pressing ahead with plans for a national ceasefire agreement, originally scheduled for the end of October, but now delayed. The most recent round of negotiations with northern Myanmar’s Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) brought further hope of nationwide reconciliation.

But the government faces ongoing tension in western Rakhine State between ethnic Rakhines (primarily Buddhist) and Rohingyas (mostly Muslims), continued fighting in Kachin State which in the past year has left more than 83,000 people displaced in 42 camps, and allegations of human rights abuses against the country’s ethnic minorities.

Following his most recent mission to Myanmar in August 2013, IRIN met Tomás Ojea Quintana , the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, in his home city of Buenos Aires, to discuss the prospects for a nationwide ceasefire; segregation in Rakhine State, and allegations of army or police brutality against Rohingyas, as well as the implications of the transition to democracy for the country’s ethnic minorities.

IRIN: Given the history of broken ceasefires between non-state armed groups and the Myanmar government, what assurance is there of lasting peace with the latest round of peace talks?

Quintana: Now what is totally different is that it is a civilian government in transition to a democracy. As a human rights rapporteur, I would not say that it is a democracy yet. Democracy will take a long time. But it is a civilian government that is progressively gaining respect, particularly from Western countries.

This respect has given the civilian government some kind of [room for] manoeuvre to have this discussion with the ethnic armed groups [to disarm], which is of course very important [for the peace process].

The ethnic groups, all of them, have reservations about where this might go in terms of lasting peace, in terms of receiving the benefits from development, and in terms of their participation in the exploitation of natural resources.

They have reservations in terms of the political structure of the country, which currently does not [allow] ethnic groups the participation they would like to have [in governing themselves], and regarding their [own political autonomy].

Nonetheless the government has signed [peace deals] with most of the NSA [non-state actor] groups. There is only one group, the Kachin, the KIA [Kachin Independence Army], which is still holding conversations. They have recently signed an agreement… which is not exactly a ceasefire… but it goes in that direction.

And now, after my last mission [in August 2013]… I talked to the president and [his] advisers who are in charge of the peace process and they are planning to hold a national ceasefire agreement by October 2013.

IRIN: How would a national ceasefire differ from individual ceasefires?

Quintana: It will be a very important message to the international community that all [of] Myanmar is united towards the very important objective of peace. A lot of pressure is being put on the KIA [to sign].

The problem… is how these ceasefires will be implemented on the ground and how they will reflect the interests of all the villagers living in remote areas. We don’t see a comprehensive plan to implement these decisions. For example, one of the issues is what will happen to the [Burmese] refugees in Thailand? If you were a refugee would you want to go back?

There is no transparency, no plans [for implementation]. Nobody knows about the problem of the landmines, the problems with the land. There is a lot of land confiscation. It is a really serious problem how to move from a ceasefire – from stopping the bullets from flying – to something different, to build a united country. That is still very difficult and will take a long time.

IRIN: What are the barriers in Kachin State, the only place where the government has not reached an agreement with rebels?

Quintana: It is not clear. The KIA allegations are that the military is not actually following the decisions of the civilian president and there is still a militarization in the area, which they won’t accept. The Kachin community in particular has a strong stance on the possibility for [it] to run [its] own businesses in Kachin State [instead of competing with the military for business and income].

The government, though, is not opening up any spaces for these kinds of issues to be included in the dialogue so far. That is why it has been quite difficult to reach an agreement.

IRIN: How representative are non-state armed groups of people in their communities?

Quintana: That’s a difficult question because there is not a formal democracy and no formal electoral process, so how do you say to what extent they are representative.

What I have seen…is that ordinary people in villages really don’t understand and don’t believe that ceasefires and peace processes will bring concrete benefits to them. That is a problem. The leaders of ethnic groups need to have better connections with their own people.

“Ordinary people in villages really don’t understand and don’t believe that ceasefires and peace processes will bring concrete benefits to them. That is a problem”

And the same with the refugees. When you talk to the refugees about returning and the information they have in respect to what is going on in Myanmar, they don’t know. They don’t trust. They still fear a lot. It seems that the ethnic leaders need more work in this respect.

At the same time, the people and the ethnic army leaders have faced oppression from the military regime for decades and that is very, very tough to lead, and to recover from that, and to try to [be] more organized with your communities is not easy.

IRIN: What can be done to engage communities more in peace talks?

Quintana: The government and the ethnic leaders are doing a lot… to settle the problems at the top, at the highest levels. But they need to involve the communities in a more widespread and comprehensive plan of action. You don’t see the communities being involved. And that has been the practice in Myanmar for decades. I mean that is how the military operated… giving instructions and expecting instructions to be implemented – period – without consulting. It’s part of a historical problem in Myanmar. It is still there.

IRIN: And what about the Rakhine commission established by the Myanmar government? What are your thoughts on its recommendations on ways to prevent violence?

Quintana: They [the commission] never addressed what happened – the human rights abuses. This is a clear shortcoming and it is one of my concerns. And I am calling for the [UN Human Rights Council] to continue to address this. The allegations of what happened are very serious. Widespread human rights abuses, torture of hundreds of prisoners in Buthidaung [a prison in Rakhine State holding an estimated 1,000 Rohingyas], a place I have visited, and the government has not done anything about that. The situation in Rakhine is quite fragile and critical.

“The situation in Rakhine is quite fragile and critical”

IRIN: What is the potential of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to help mitigate what is now a regional crisis?

Quintana: ASEAN countries don’t want to get involved. Based on the non-interference provision of ASEAN charter, they do not want to interfere. There is no potential [for ASEAN] as a regional mechanism [to pressure the Myanmar government to resolve the conflict]. I tried many times to address ASEAN, to let them know they have an important role to play… It is becoming a regional, not a national problem.

IRIN: Is the government putting any foundation in place to allow Rohingyas to return to their homes in northern Rakhine State?

Quintana: No… The original places of the Rohingyas are being used for some other purposes by the government.

IRIN: How can the humanitarian community support shelter for the displaced?

Quintana: There is a dilemma because the [displaced] people still need access to humanitarian aid. So if you do not provide that because you say you do not agree with [the government’s] policies of making settlements permanent, then you are not delivering the aid. So you have a problem there. And the humanitarian agencies or donors try not to get involved in the political arena of a country.

IRIN: What are the risks of long-term segregation of Buddhists and Rohingyas, where government- monitored encampment have cut displaced Rohingyas from their land and livelihoods?

Quintana: It’s going to be a disaster because many of the areas that you can look into in respect to the Rohingyas, how Rohingyas are treated, you always see obstacles, limitations, and intentions to not help them at all.

IRIN: What role can civil society play in reconciliation?

Quintana: I hope they are included as participants in the implementation of the [ceasefire] agreement. That is the role they need to play but that is the role that their own leaders need to address with them [ethnic communities]. The[se communities’] leaders need to say that they want their own people to be involved.

My job as a rapporteur is to say, ‘You are an ethnic general of armed forces. I understand… you have been fighting for years against your army. But now you need to play some other role and let your people participate.’ It will take time…

[During my] last mission my convoy was attacked by Buddhist mobs [where I was addressing the issue of communal violence]. And the police stood by so it was kind of planned somehow… It was more than tense. I was frightened. But I am still holding the mandate [as Myanmar’s special rapporteur on human rights].

dm/pt/cb  source http://www.irinnews.org

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Not all monks preach pacifism

Posted by African Press International on July 16, 2013

BANGKOK,  – Influential Buddhist monks in Myanmar have been aggravating longstanding tensions between the country’s Buddhist and Muslim communities since violence erupted between the two groups in 2012, say experts. 

“The Burmese Buddhist monks may not have initiated the violence but they rode the wave and began to incite more,” said Michael Jerryson, a religious studies professor and co-editor of Buddhist Warfare, a recent 2010 publication examining the violent side of Buddhism in Southeast Asia and how Buddhist organizations there have used religious images and rhetoric to support “military conquest”.

For example, the “969” movement (the numbers hold significance in Buddhist teachings) is a nationalist anti-Muslim campaign founded in early 2013 in Myanmar to protect Burmese Buddhist identity. Leaders have referred to Muslims in derogatory terms and accused them of attempting to dominate Burmese society politically and economically.

Supporters wear stickers identifying their membership, which are also posted on Buddhist-owned shops and kiosks to encourage Buddhists to conduct business only with other Buddhists, and condemn those who buy from Muslims.

Audio CDs blast hate rhetoric in restaurants and shops across the country, including the speeches of an influential and well-known monk, U-Wirathu, who has sparked fierce international criticism for his anti- Muslim speeches, according to local news.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused the government of not doing enough to stem his and other Burmese monks’ hate speech.

“The government is not implementing the basic rule of law to hold instigators of violence accountable… If you instigate and engage in violence you should be held responsible, whether you are wearing a saffron robe or not,” said Phil Robertson, deputy executive director for HRW in Southeast Asia.

While the ideals of Buddhist canonical texts promote peace and pacifism, discrepancies between reality and precepts “easily flourish” in times of social, political and economic insecurity, such as Myanmar’s current transition to democracy, according to Jerryson.

Monks serve as one of society’s main moral compasses in Theravada Buddhism – practised in Southeast Asian countries including Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos. Their influence has reached into the political life of most of these countries, creating a fusion between religion and national identity.

In Myanmar’s ethnically and religiously heterogeneous society, non-Buddhists are increasingly feeling the weight of Buddhist radicalism, say analysts.

Longstanding state persecution of non-Buddhists

Despite the country’s demographics boasting a 90 percent Buddhist majority of Myanmar’s estimated 60 million people, the “969” campaign is predicated on fear of the country being overtaken by Muslims (some 5 percent of the population, most of whom are both disenfranchized and stateless) determined to spread Islam and destroy Buddhist communities.

“Even the most peace-loving religious traditions can be fused with movements of ethnic anger and political power that lead to violence,” Mark Juergensmeyer, the director of the Orfalea Centre for Global and International Studies at the University of Santa Barbara, California, and expert on religious violence, told IRIN.

“If Islam, a religious tradition whose very name means peace, can be associated with violence [by extremists] it should be no surprise that there are angry Buddhists who become violent as well,” explained Juergensmeyer.

The entanglement of Buddhism with the Burmese national identity dates back to the 1962 advent of military rule, and continues even after a quasi-civilian government came to power in 2011.
Burmese politics promote a homogenous Buddhist, Burmese identity through longstanding state persecution of non-Buddhists, according to the Oxford Burma Alliance (OBA), an advocacy group based in London’s Oxford University promoting the rights of ethnic minorities in Myanmar.

“Persecution has always been part of the national policy of `Burmanisation’, an ultra-nationalist ideology based on the racial purity of the Burman ethnicity and its Buddhist faith,” reported OBA.

“When monks tell people violence is OK, and that it will gain [karmic] merit for people, it is a powerful enabling force”

Monks have historically played a prominent political role in Myanmar, most notably in the 2007 peaceful demonstration known as the Saffron Revolution. Tens of thousands of monks marched to denounce the military regime’s brutality, which resulted in thousands of arrests of monastic community members.

However, six years later, the monastic marchers are no longer preaching pacifism.

Violence targeting ethnic Rohingya (Muslims of Indian ancestry based in Rakhine State near the Bangladesh border) in June and October 2012 killed at least 250 and has resulted in the segregation of 140,000 Muslim Rohingya in almost 90 closed camps for internally displaced persons near Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State.

Rioting spread in March 2013 to the country’s central city of Meikhtila, destroying up to 1,200 houses and killing at least 44 people. The latest violence marked the first time Burmese monks openly incited mass killings and the destruction of property.

And though 25 Buddhists were recently sentenced to as many as 15 years imprisonment for Meikhtila’s two days of bloodshed, these rulings followed weeks of punishments meted out almost exclusively to Muslims for violence that drove out some 30,000 Muslims from the city.

Fine print of pacifism

While the Buddhist teaching on `ahimsa’, or non-violence, is one of the religion’s five fundamental precepts, the impact on a person’s future life (another Buddhist belief is reincarnation) is not equal for everyone, but rather is based on the type of life form committing the violence and the intention of the perpetrator.

In Myanmar monks have used this belief to rationalize their dehumanization of Muslims, and classify violence against them as acts of self-defence, as long as the monks can prove “pure intentions”.

“Across Buddhist traditions, intention is an exception to the rule when committing violence,” said Jerryson. “If violence is seen as being a way to protect Buddhism and you have pure thoughts to help or defend that, then it becomes [acceptable],” he added.

But members in the international Buddhist community have condemned what they call manipulation of an exception to justify violence.

“We are deeply ashamed by the appalling treatment of Muslims now occurring in some Buddhist countries,” said Richard Gombrich, the founder and director of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist studies, referring to ongoing violence against Muslims in Myanmar, Sri Lanka and southern Thailand.

“Theravada Buddhists, and particularly their leaders, are betraying the Buddhist value of non-violence, let alone kindness and compassion,” he added.

Critics of Buddhist-instigated violence say monks are tapping into long-standing animosity between Buddhists and Muslims at a time of enormous social upheaval.

“Muslims have become scapegoats to displace people’s fear and frustrations,” said the author Jerryson.

“Powerful enabling force”

Since November 2011, Myanmar has opened up its economy to foreign investment, increased political space for disparate and previously suppressed ethnic groups – such as the Rakhine Buddhists – to have a voice, and lifted press censorship laws.

Living in the second poorest state in Myanmar, Rakhine Buddhists have suffered marginalization from the central government as an ethnic minority that has long fought for greater political power in the majority Burman-ruled country.

Against a backdrop of economic and political change, “people look to monks to guide them; monks are like externalized super egos for the community. When monks tell people violence is OK, and that it will gain [karmic] merit for people, it is a powerful enabling force,” said Jerryson, the religious studies professor.

Reconciliation looking difficult

While UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s statement earlier this month called on “moderate voices” from religious leaders and civil society to counter the country’s “dangerous polarization” and extremism, Robertson with HRW noted: “It is difficult for persons who want to stop the religious violence because then they are going against the religious and community leaders.”

Strong political and public support for “969” leaders and extremist monks have made it increasingly difficult for any Buddhists to speak out, while the near absence of government policies to promote community reconciliation heightens the risk of the re-emergence of violence.

Meanwhile, according to Refugees International, a US-based advocacy organization for displaced persons, Myanmar’s government continues to condone radical violent behaviour against Muslims by allowing hate speech to go unpunished, failing to protect members of the Rohingya community during recent outbreaks of violence, and continuing to arrest Muslim leaders in response to recent violence in disproportionate numbers.

Without addressing root causes as well as the grievances of all affected populations equally, inter-communal violence may spread to neighbouring countries hosting Buddhist and Muslim populations and pose “a further threat” to regional security and stability, warned the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

But all of this would require a shift in Myanmar’s attempt to create a Buddhist national identity.

“Reconciliation requires an ability by the state to establish a moratorium on violence. The idea that being Burmese means being Buddhist has to be put away,” concluded Jerryson.

dm/pt/cb  source http://www.irinnews.org

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Analysis: Where aid can do harm

Posted by African Press International on July 6, 2013

BANGKOK,  – The aid community should proceed carefully to avoid enflaming sectarian tensions in Myanmar’s Rakhine State more than a year after the first wave of inter-communal violence.

“The biggest challenge faced by humanitarian aid groups to operate in contexts of sectarian violence is to be perceived as delivering aid in a biased manner,” said Jeremie Labbe, a senior policy analyst of humanitarian affairs at the UN International Peace Institute (IPI) based in New York.

Since inter-communal fighting broke out between ethnic Rakhines (mostly Buddhist) and Rohingya (predominantly Muslim) in June and October 2012, displacing up to 140,000 people, humanitarian assistance to Rakhine State has totalled more than US$52 million, according to the European Commission’s aid body ECHO.

Aid organizations working in Rakhine State [need to] take a conflict-sensitive approach to providing aid so that they do not fuel existing tensions between communities,” Oliver Lacey-Hall, the acting head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Myanmar, told IRIN.

In recent decades, humanitarian aid has been directed at the Rohingya in western Rakhine State due to systematic state-sanctioned discrimination that has left roughly 800,000 people stateless, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). This focus has engendered hostility among some in the majority Buddhist population (ethnic Rakhines), who felt marginalized and threatened by people they consider to be illegal migrants.

Meanwhile, the separation of Muslim Rohingya in nearly 90 official camps and sites for internally displaced persons (IDPs) risks cementing segregation between the two communities, fears ECHO, which has expressed concern that any housing construction in the camps for the displaced may lead to long-term physical division.

Conflict sensitivity

While OCHA encourages humanitarian providers to adopt a “conflict-sensitive” approach to aid distribution, which requires clear communication with communities to explain the basis of aid distribution, past humanitarian interventions in Rakhine State have contributed to an uneasy relationship between aid providers and ethnic Rakhines.

“Without addressing the very real perception among the Rakhine population that assistance has been disproportionately provided to Rohingya, it will be difficult for humanitarian aid groups to decrease tension,” said Anagha Neelakantan, the deputy director for International Crisis Group’s (ICG) Asia programme, speaking from Kathmandu, Nepal.

In order to appear impartial, humanitarian agencies must “have a balanced approach” and reach out to all affected communities, according to Labbe.

While most aid organizations assist both ethnic Rakhine and Rohingya indiscriminately, the Rohingya have disproportionately suffered the consequences of recent inter-communal strife.

Most of the 3,000 previously displaced ethnic Rakhine people have returned to their places of origin, with support from central and local government, according to ECHO.

“Sticking to the principle of impartiality [and providing aid on the basis of need] means that the bulk of aid [is] directed toward the group that suffered the most during the violence and now faces the biggest needs, in [this] case the Muslim Rohingya,” said Labbe.

But it also means that aid risks exacerbating sectarian tension, as well as the insecurity of humanitarian staff working on the ground.

“It is up to aid agencies to redouble efforts to explain and communicate with all segments of the population why aid is distributed in a certain way, and how – in order to mitigate possible negative effects,” said Labbe.

Construction in camps divisive

While IDPs still lack adequate food, housing, and health, focusing on only those immediate needs without addressing broader political concerns may condone a securitized, restrictive IDP camp setting that obstructs livelihoods, freedom of movement and, ultimately, prevents reconciliation, according to activists.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the current situation of “warehousing” – where Rohingya people are “penned in by local security forces” in both official and unofficial camps – is untenable for forging peace in Rakhine State.

“The situation that has evolved, with no freedom of movement for the Rohingya IDPs, follows the plan of the Rakhine extremists; to drive one community out of a place and contain them in camps,” Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy director for Asia, explained.

“The danger is that funding temporary or semi-permanent shelters in the Rohingya IDP camps could contribute to making the ethnic/religious partitioning permanent,” said Mathias Eick, ECHO’s regional information officer for Southeast Asia, which has committed up to $19 million in 2012 and 2013 for humanitarian assistance, including food, livelihoods, household items and health support to IDPs in Rakhine State.

“Our problem is not with shelters per se, but rather with supporting the construction of shelters in the camps, which may result in permanent segregation of the communities… We would rather see those displaced return voluntarily to their home villages and towns where we could provide assistance for rebuilding. Shelter needs in the camps have to be balanced with the humanitarian principle of `do no harm’” he added.

A US-based NGO, CDA Collaborative Learning Projects (previously Collaborative for Development Action) has a training module that examines how assistance in conflicts interacts with conflicts.

“When assistance workers understand the patterns by which assistance can have harmful effects, and the opportunities by which it can also have additional positive effects on overcoming conflict, they can… avoid doing the harm that has sometimes been done in the past, and [help] rebind and re-connect people rather than divide them,” wrote project staff.

Long-term segregation in Rakhine State may make the task of addressing historical tensions between the two communities more difficult, according to ICG’s Neelakantan.

Since January 2013, Rakhine local authorities and the central government have been providing bamboo material for houses in the 89 camps and settlements for Rohingya IDPs. The bamboo is then used to construct barrack-type structures providing accommodation for up to eight families per building.

With the ongoing rainy season from May to September, the UNHCR and OCHA listed shelter as an urgent need and campaigned for $2.5 million in April 2013, the requirements of which have since been covered by the Myanmar government.

 Government needs to do more

While a conflict-sensitive approach may help avoid mutual hostility between the two communities, ultimately the responsibility for addressing turmoil and promoting peace lies with the government, rights advocates insist.

“There is a limit to what humanitarian aid providers can do to defuse conflict and unrest,” said Robertson.

Experts list poverty, marginalization, and discriminatory laws as root causes for deep-seated grievances, requiring government-driven political recognition and protection of human rights for both groups, for example granting Rohingya Muslims citizenship.

“It is the responsibility of the Burmese government to get to the bottom of the unrest, but so far they [have not taken enough action] to promote reconciliation and face down the instigators of violence and unrest,” said Robertson.

While the government established an Inquiry Commission on the Sectarian Violence in Rakhine State in 2012, and a report detailing recommendations was published in April 2013, concrete action to stem violent extremist rhetoric has yet to be taken, according to HRW and ICG.

“Decisive moral leadership is required by both President Thein Sein and [opposition leader] Aung San Suu Kyi to prevent violence from spreading,” said ICG in November 2012, a need largely unchanged today.

“The government must strive to find solutions to the conflict. Community and religious leaders also have a major role to play to defuse tension and promote peace,” said OCHA’s Lacey-Hall.

dm/pt/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

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Myanmar: Rohingya’s IDPs have Limited health options

Posted by African Press International on June 2, 2013

Health access in the camps in limited

SITTWE,  – Aid workers are calling for better health access for an estimated 140,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State, most of them Rohingya Muslims.

Although a number of NGOs and government mobile clinics are providing basic health services inside the roughly 80 camps and settlements, they are limited, and emergency health referrals remain a serious concern, they say.

According to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), conditions inside the camps, combined with the segregation of ethnic Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya and ongoing movement restrictions, are having a severe impact on health care.

Movement restrictions were slapped on Rohingyas around Sittwe, the Rakhine State capital, after bouts of sectarian violence in June and October 2012.

Another concern is the negative attitude of many ethnic Rakhine to assistance provided to Muslim IDPs.

“With threats and intimidation both to health provider and patient, this becomes an irreconcilable dilemma,” Carol Jacobsen of the medical NGO Merlin told IRIN, adding that “hostile access”, limited transportation and poor security were obstacles to health care for the Muslim population.

Pregnant women dying unnecessarily”

Aside from IDPs, thousands of Rohingyas in their villages or places of origin – many reachable only by boat – are restricted from travelling to local township hospitals in the event of a medical emergency, aid workers report.

“MSF has just returned from areas where whole villages are cut off from basic services,” said Ronald Kremer, MSF emergency coordinator in Rakhine State. “What we have seen shows that current policies such as movement restrictions are having a detrimental impact on people’s health. This includes TB patients unable to access the treatment they need to stay alive, and pregnant women dying unnecessarily because they have nowhere safe to deliver.”

It’s estimated there are 5,000 pregnant displaced women living in the camps.

“Normally, these women would be going to government hospitals or clinics,” said Marlar Soe, field coordinator for the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in Sittwe, noting that government midwives, who are largely ethnic Rakhine, are not going into the camps.

Almost one year after the initial violence in Rakhine State, more than half the IDPs are in Sittwe, one of nine strife-affected townships. Most Rohingyas are confined to a series of camps on the outskirts of the town.

Security forces and metal barricades, topped with razor wire, prevent camp residents from leaving what activists are now describing as a ghetto-like prison.

ICRC evacuates a young child to Sittwe

Call for action on hospitals

The 12-bed Dar Pai emergency hospital is the only government-run health facility for the more than 100,000 Muslim IDPs and residents in an area which encompasses 11 IDP camps and makeshift sites, as well as five Rohingya host communities.

Doctors are rarely seen and medicine is in short supply, say IDPs.

“You’re lucky if you can get an aspirin there,” said Aung Win, a 57-year-old Rohingya man from the Mawlee quarter of Sittwe, referring to the hospital.

Edward Hew, head of relief operations for Mercy Malaysia, says it is time for the international community to come together with state health authorities to strengthen the Dar Pai hospital as it is currently the only option available. “Many patients are not comfortable with being referred to Sittwe Hospital,” he said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) currently provides emergency medical evacuation services to Sittwe Hospital. “This, however, is not always easy given the security situation, as well as the limited number of beds [12] allocated for Muslims,” said one aid worker who preferred anonymity.

Meanwhile, with monsoon rains having begun, there is growing concern about the risk of water-borne and communicable diseases.

“Many of the risk factors for an outbreak are present, including overcrowding, open defecation, limited potable water, poor hygiene standards and many living in makeshift shelters,” said Ingrid Maria Johansen, project coordinator for MSF in Sittwe, warning that an outbreak of acute watery diarrhoea could spread quickly through the camps.

ds/cb  source http://www.irinnews.org

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UNHCR calls on Dhaka to open border

Posted by African Press International on November 2, 2012

There are more than 200,000 Rohingya in Bangladesh

BANGKOK,  – The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has called on Bangladesh to open its borders to Rohingyas fleeing sectarian violence in Myanmar.

“UNHCR continues to consider that until public order and security are restored for all communities in [Myanmar’s] Rakhine State, states should not forcibly return to Myanmar persons originating from Rakhine State,” Pia Paguio, senior protection officer and officer-in-charge of UNHCR in Dhaka, told IRIN on 29 October. “We thus continue to appeal to the government of Bangladesh to open its borders to those in need of a safe haven.”

Under Burmese law, the Rohingya – a persecuted minority of 800,000 – are de jure stateless in Myanmar and face constant persecution, while in Muslim-majority Bangladesh they are viewed as illegal migrants. 

Bangladesh has repeatedly said it will not accept any Rohingya refugees fleeing ethnic violence in neighbouring Myanmar’s western Rakhine State.

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

Displacement rising

According to Burmese government estimates released on 29 October, more than 28,000 residents have been displaced in Rakhine State following a week of deadly sectarian violence between Rohingya Muslims and ethnic (mainly Buddhist) Rakhine which began on 21 October.

At least 76 people were killed, and more than 4,600 houses and several religious buildings destroyed, in the unrest, the UN reported on 29 October. There was violence in the Rakhine State townships of Kyaukpyu, Kyauktaw, Minbya, Mrauk-U, Myebon, Pauktaw, Ramree and Rathedaung. 

Tensions had increased after monks, and women’s and youth groups organized anti-Rohingya and anti-Organization of Islamic Cooperation demonstrations in Sittwe, Mandalay and Yangon, the report said.

The latest displacement comes on top of the 75,000, mostly Rohingya Muslims, currently displaced after communal violence erupted in June following the alleged rape and murder of a Rakhine woman by a group of Muslim men in May.

At least 78 people were killed and close to 5,000 homes and buildings were destroyed in that incident.

Most of the displaced are currently in nine overcrowded camps in Sittwe, separated from the rest of the community due to security concerns.

Closed border

There are more than 200,000 Rohingya in Bangladesh today, including more than 30,000 documented refugees living in two government-run camps (Kutupalong and Nayapara) within 2km of the Burmese border, according to UNHCR.

UNHCR has not been permitted to register newly arriving Rohingya since mid-1992. Most Rohingya are living in villages and towns in the Cox’s Bazar area and receive little to no assistance as the agency is only allowed to assist those who are documented.

UNHCR does not have access to the 193km Myanmar-Bangladesh border to verify the situation of persons arriving from Rakhine State. Moreover, Bangladesh’s closed border policy remains in effect.

Despite repeated advocacy efforts by UNHCR, civil society and the diplomatic community, Dhaka, fearing a major influx, closed its borders to persons fleeing communal violence Myanmar in June.

Those who did manage to make it across the border were rounded up and sent back to Myanmar. However, there are no reliable figures on the number of arrivals and the number refouled.

Bangladesh is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol.

“UNHCR reiterates its readiness to provide protection and assistance to the governments and the people of Bangladesh and Myanmar in addressing this evolving humanitarian situation,” said Paguino.

ds/cb
source www.irinnews.org

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