Foreign NGOS hit back at profiteering charge
INTERNATIONAL non-governmental organisations (INGOS) hit back at accusations that they are blocking the repatriation of refugees to northern Rakhine State because they make money off the people living in crowded camps in Bangladesh.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, described the accusation by a Myanmar government spokesman on November 23 as disinformation, insisting that the INGOS and UN agencies focus solely on meeting the basic humanitarian needs of the refugees.
“When the Myanmar government and military have nothing good to present in terms of accomplishments, they manufacture attacks against NGOS and other international agencies to divert attention,” he said.
Last Friday, U Zaw Htay, spokesperson of President’s Office, claimed that the refugee crisis on the Myanmar bangladesh border is actually a huge money-making venture for the INGOS that provide assistance to over 700,000 Muslims who fled violence in northern Rakhine State last year, and these groups strongly oppose the return of the refugees to northern Rakhine.
“INGOS do not want [the refugees] to return to Myanmar. Only then will they get these huge projects. This is a massive business for the INGOS, so they are telling [the refugees] not to return,” he told a briefing in Nay Pyi Taw on November 23. He offered no proof of his accusations.
Anna Schaaf, prevention and communications manager of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Bangladesh, said the ICRC takes allegations of financial irregularities seriously.
“We have robust systems in place to ensure that the aid we provide reaches the people it is intended for,” she said.
Schaaf said the ICRC works on both sides of the border between Bangladesh and Myanmar and has assisted almost 300,000 people in Rakhine and 50,000 in Bangladesh.
She added that the ICRC focuses on people who need protection and assistance from a purely humanitarian standpoint and will continue helping all vulnerable communities in accordance with its mandate.
‘’While we are providing support for people living in the camps in Bangladesh, we believe that their return represents a positive step if it is done under the right conditions. Returns should be voluntary, safe and take place with dignity,” Schaaf said.
Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK, described as “nonsense” the government’s accusation that NGOS are trying to prevent refugees from returning to Myanmar because they are making money.
He said refugees are refusing to return because neither the government nor the military respect their human rights.
“The government only wants refugees to return as a public relations move to try to avoid more international pressure,” Farmaner said.
The first batch of over 2000 refugees was supposed to be repatriated on November 15, but Bangladesh cancelled it at the last minute after a protest by about 1000 refugees.