Aid agencies fear exclusion from Rakhine
Myanmar’s government takes over relief effort Charities warn needs of Rohingya are enormous
Myanmar’s government has taken control of aid operations in the country’s crisis-hit Rakhine state, as reports continue of massacres and “ethnic cleansing” by soldiers against its Muslim population.
Senior officials and Human Rights Watch say they believe the move could become permanent, ending vital food and health programmes run by international agencies. There is already a blockade on UN aid agencies, which workers say is harming already malnourished children.
The UN has described the humanitarian situation for Rohingya people in northern Rakhine as catastrophic. Nearly 400,000 have fled into makeshift camps in Bangladesh since 25 August, when assaults on security outposts by Rohingya insurgents prompted a massive military crackdown.
After a meeting with aid donors, the government said this month that it would work with the Red Cross movement to “provide humanitarian assistance to all those affected by the terrorist attacks”.
On the same day, however, UN aid agencies were barred from northern Rakhine. The Guardian understands that only the government, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Myanmar Red Cross Society are now working in the area. Sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they feared a deliberate attempt to undermine aid operations.
“We’re slowly getting kicked out,” said one official. “This could fundamentally shift the way we operate here. The amount of time it will take to get back, or even if we are allowed, is all up in the air and in the meantime there could be a humanitarian disaster. The government clearly don’t want us there. It’s an attempt to keep us out in a way that doesn’t fall on them; they can use security as an excuse.
“As per their mandate, the ICRC don’t say anything – that’s why they want them. The area is the same one where the UN fact-finding investigation is meant to take place,” the official added, referring to a UN-mandated mission to investigate alleged atrocities by the army.
“The other issue is that the Red Cross and government simply will not have the capacity to scale up,” the source said.
One senior aid agency official echoed these sentiments: “The concern is that they simply will not have the capacity to scale up to the necessary amounts [of aid] to support everyone there. The needs are going to be enormous. We’re talking about, possibly, the entire population of the Rohingya community in northern Rakhine in need of aid.”
Two months ago, a World Food Programme report concluded that more than 80,000 children may need treatment for malnutrition, and that there had been a sharp rise in “extreme” food insecurity.
Sanela Bajrambasic, an ICRC spokesperson, acknowledged its expanded role but said “the ICRC is not stepping up on behalf of any other organisation or NGO. The ICRC has a presence in the state since 2012 and we have been helping the population according to our humanitarian mandate and principles.”
Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader, has come under criticism for her failure to condemn the crackdown.
A spokesperson for the government could not be reached for comment.
Fleeing Rohingya cross the Naf river from Myanmar into Bangladesh Photographer: Masfiqur Sohan/NurPhoto/Getty
Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has faced criticism over her failure to condemn attacks on the Rohingya in Rakhine