Aidworkers say thousands of displaced Rohingya still receive no humanitarian aid(Partners Relief and Development)
DVB by HANNA HINDSTROM
5 February 2013
Thousands of Muslim Rohingyas, who were uprooted after sectarianclashes in western Burma last year, are still not registered as internallydisplaced persons (IDPs) by the government and continue to be deniedhumanitarian assistance, local sources have warned.
An international aid worker, who recently returned from theconflict-torn Arakan state, told DVB that she visited remote areas around thestate capital Sittwe, where people were forced to beg for food from locals andregistered IDPs in order to survive.
“What most of the world is not aware of are the refugees thatare not living in [registered] camps,” said Oddny Gumaer from Partners Reliefand Development. “And those people are living in conditions that are so badthat I’m sure if the international community doesn’t do something very soonthey are going to die.”
She told DVB that she was “overwhelmed” by the conditions insome of the areas she visited, which she described as akin to “concentrationcamps”.
“If they are lucky they have a tarp to cover them, many of themhave stitched together old rice sacks. There are no toilets, no sanitation,doctors, and no access to hospitals. I saw babies that were so malnourished andchildren with bloated stomachs and mothers that couldn’t feed their babiesbecause they didn’t have any milk.”
Arakan state was rocked by two bouts of sectarian violence inJune and October last year, when the majority Buddhist population clashed withthe Muslim Rohingya — a stateless minority group viewed as illegal Bengaliimmigrants by the government. While most of the displaced have been registeredas IDPs and receive some form of humanitarian aid, many of the Rohingya havenot.
A recent report by the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN agencyformally tasked with humanitarian distribution in Arakan state, recognised theproblem of unregistered Rohingya camps on the outskirts of Sittwe.
“Unregistered IDPs do not receive assistance from theinternational community, leaving them largely reliant on donations from hostvillagers and external religious organisations,” said the report released inlate January. “As a consequence, living conditions for “unregistered” IDPpopulations are not good, with most living in small huts made of straws andpieces of tarpaulins.”
According to the report, many “unregistered” families fled afterthe October conflict, because of ongoing tensions or fears of renewed clashesin their local area, “sometimes at the behest of authorities”. But a WFPspokesperson insisted that the “majority” of those displaced in last year’sviolence are receiving assistance.
“There is still a relative fluidity to the situation and peopleare still moving, but the government, WFP and other humanitarian actors aredoing everything we can to make sure that all those who should be registeredare,” Marcus Prior told DVB.
The UN agency says it registered an additional 15,000 peoplebetween December and January, bringing the total number of IDPs to 125,000. Butit is likely that thousands more, as well as host communities who have losttheir livelihoods as a result of travel restrictions, are in need of aid.
“Without a proper assessment led by government it is verydifficult to say how many additional people need assistance,” Kirsten Mildrenfrom the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told DVBvia email.
“We know anecdotally that there are people that have arrivedfrom Sittwe town and rural areas to the camps outside Sittwe. Some estimatessay as many as 10,000.”
A spokesperson for the local state government blamed theRohingya for refusing to stay in one place.
“I would like to say that [IDPs] in Pauktaw should stay inPauktaw; why come to Sittwe or Tharyar?,” said Win Myaing in an interview withDVB. “Now, when we are making a list in the camp over here, then people from[another camp] will come. Frankly, [the Rohingya] are just attempting to makethe list bigger so that they can get more aid.”
He also accused the UN of “failing” to provide for unregisteredIDPs and host communities affected by the violence. “WFP doesn’t provide aid atall for the unregistered refugees. But our government; the state government, isdistributing aid for all those who are on the list or not on the list.”
WFP insists they have managed to secure access to most of theareas in Arakan state, except for the very remotest. But other aid groups sayaccess continues to be severely hampered by local hostility and governmentindifference.
Since violence first erupted last year, local nationalists haveled a vociferous campaign against international aid groups, who they perceiveas treating the Rohingya favourably, even though they account for the vastmajority of those displaced.
Peter Aung contributed reporting.