Aid agen­cies fear ex­clu­sion from Rakhine

Myanmar’s gov­ern­ment takes over re­lief ef­fort Char­i­ties warn needs of Ro­hingya are enor­mous

The Guardian - - INTERNATIONAL - Emanuel Stoakes

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

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.