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Posts Tagged ‘Rohingya people’

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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