Myanmar: Humanitarian Bulletin, Issue 2 2017 | June – 22 September
Over 400,000 flee their homes in northern Rakhine
Humanitarian operations severely disrupted in central Rakhine
Rakhine Advisory Commission issues final report
Civilians in Kachin and Shan bear the brunt of armed conflict
Monsoon season floods temporarily displaced over 300,000
IDPs in Kachin 89,000 IDPs in Shan 9,000 IDPs in Rakhine since 2012 121,000 Refugee arrivals in Bangladesh (Oct 2016-Jul 2017) 87,000 Refugee arrivals in Bangladesh (Aug-Sept 2017) 429,000 New IDPs in Rakhine (Confirmed by Govt as at 12 Sept) 21,000
150 million requested (US$)
76.4 million received (US$)
Over 400,000 people flee their homes in northern Rakhine
429,000 refugees arrive in Bangladesh, while others are internally displaced in Rakhine
Following a series of attacks on police and military posts in northern Rakhine on 25 August by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) and subsequent security operations by the Myanmar Military, a humanitarian catastrophe has been unfolding.
Entire areas have been depopulated as terrified civilians have been fleeing their homes en masse, with village after village being burned to the ground, making it more difficult for people to return. This follows a similar pattern of events in 2016, when armed attacks on police personnel led to a major security crackdown which resulted in an estimated 87,000 people fleeing to Bangladesh.
Although total numbers of people displaced by the conflict are not yet known, it appears that about 94 per cent of those confirmed as displaced so far are Muslims, the rest being Rakhine Buddhists, and other groups such as Mro and Daingnet, and Hindus.
According to the UN-led InterSector Coordination Group in Bangladesh, an estimated 429,000 refugees fled across the border from Rakhine into Bangladesh in the period between 25 August and 20 September. This is the largest mass refugee movement in the region in decades. Apart from these people, an unknown number remain stranded, internally displaced or on the move in different parts of the three northern townships of Rakhine. The Government has not provided information on the number of internally displaced Muslim people, and due to the ongoing security situation and lack of access it has not been possible for the UN to verify numbers.
In addition to the displaced Muslim population, 26,700 non-Muslims fled their homes or were evacuated by the Government to other parts of Rakhine, according to Myanmar Government reports. Of these, the Government reports that approximately 6,000 people had returned to their homes by 12 September, leaving approximately 21,000 still displaced. Those who remain displaced are staying at monasteries, schools and other sites, and some are staying with relatives or host families.
Most of the Muslims who fled their homes crossed over into Bangladesh. The majority crossed the border in the northern part of Maungdaw Township. For many people this involved a long and dangerous journey on foot over difficult terrain. The refugees arrived in Bangladesh exhausted, hungry and traumatized by their weeks-long ordeal. Women and men arrived carrying newborn babies and young children. The crossing was particularly perilous for people with disabilities and the elderly. Many were carried for days by distraught relatives. Some arrived with injuries caused by gunshots, fire and landmines. In the southern part of Maungdaw Township, thousands paid extortionate fees to make risky crossings from the coast in small boats. There were a number of instances of over-crowded boats capsizing in rough waters and dozens of refugees are reported to have drowned. Media reports have shown pictures of bodies being washed up on the shores in different places.
Vast swathes of Rakhine State are now emptied of all Muslim residents. According to the latest reports from the Myanmar Government, 176 Muslim villages are now completely empty. In Rathedaung Township, Government figures show three quarters of the Muslim population has fled in fear, with most Muslim villages and all three of the former Rathedaung IDP camps now burnt to the ground. There are just five isolated Muslim communities left in all of Rathedaung Township and their situation remains extremely precarious. Following continuous threats from local Rakhine people to leave, many of these vulnerable people are so terrified that they calling the Government, the UN and others asking for additional measures to protect them or for help to be relocated to a safer place.
Villages burned and civilians killed in the violence
There have been widespread allegations of attacks on civilians, of threats and violence being used to drive people out of their homes, and of serious human rights violations including the killing of civilians and large-scale burnings of villages in Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung townships. The Myanmar Government said on 13 September that “45 areas within the Maungdaw region have been torched and destroyed.” On 19 September, Human Rights Watch released an analysis based on satellite imagery, cross-referenced with first person testimonies, identifying 214 sites where there has been near total destruction of buildings. Fires and looting continue to be reported in the affected area. The Fact Finding Mission created by the United Nations Human Rights Council in March 2017 “to establish the facts and circumstances of the alleged recent human rights violations by military and security forces, and abuses, in Myanmar, in particular in Rakhine State” has not been allowed access to the affected areas. The Myanmar Government has stated that it believes that “instituting such a mission is not a helpful course of action” in solving the many complex challenges of Rakhine State.
Calls from the UN to end the violence, uphold the rule of law and allow humanitarian access
The UN has been advocating strongly at every level for the protection of all civilians in Rakhine and for safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to all people in need. The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, has condemned the attacks by ARSA. In a statement on 25 August he reiterated “the importance of addressing the root causes of violence, in particular issues related to identity and citizenship, and reducing intercommunal tensions” and he stressed the importance of ensuring the protection of civilians at all times. In a statement on 1 September, he expressed deep concerns about the “reports of excesses during the security operations conducted by Myanmar's security forces in Rakhine State” and urged “restraint and calm to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe.” He underlined “the responsibility of the Government of Myanmar to provide security and assistance to all those in need and to enable the UN and its partners to extend the humanitarian support they are ready to provide.” He also urged the Government of Myanmar “to implement the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine”. In a statement to the Human Rights Council in Geneva on 11 September, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said the situation "seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” In his speech to the UN General Assembly on 19 September, the Secretary-General once again called on the authorities in Myanmar to “end the military operations, allow unhindered humanitarian access and recognize the right of refugees to return is safety and dignity”. He also called on them to “address the grievances of the Rohingya, whose status has been left unresolved for far too long”.
Humanitarian access constraints
The UN and its humanitarian partners have been offering their support to the Government to meet the needs of all those affected by the violence. However, despite strong advocacy by the UN for humanitarian access for its own staff and for other humanitarian organizations, the Government has said that staff from the UN and international nongovernment organizations (INGOs) will not be granted access in these areas for the time being. Instead, the Government announced that in the area of ongoing security operations it would be working with the Red Cross Movement to deliver humanitarian assistance. The Myanmar Government’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement on 11 September saying that “a Government-led mechanism established in cooperation with the Red Cross Movement has already started its humanitarian assistance activities” and that “humanitarian assistance will be provided to all displaced inhabitants without discrimination”.
On 19 September, the Government’s Relief and Resettlement Department (RRD) reported that the Ministry of Social Welfare, Rakhine State Government and donors had provided MMK 528 million (US$391,000) in cash assistance and MMK 61 million (US$45,000) in in-kind support to displaced people between 27 August and 15 September. In addition, RRD reported that humanitarian assistance provided by the Red Cross Movement in the period from 26 August to 15 September reached 19,000 people in Buthidaung, Maungdaw, Rathedaung, Ponnagyun, Kyauktaw, Sittwe, Mrauk-U, Minbya,
Toungup, and Thandwe.
Meanwhile, almost all of the humanitarian activities that were previously being carried out by UN agencies and INGOs in northern Rakhine have either been suspended or severely interrupted.
Reports indicate that a number of the clinics and other facilities previously used for humanitarian activities have been burned or looted. Without access to these areas, the UN does not know how many of the people who were previously accessing these critical services have fled and how many remain in the area.
Humanitarian and development needs were already very high in this part of the Rakhine State prior to the most recent outbreak of violence. As the Rakhine Advisory Commission pointed out in its final report of August 2017, “protracted statelessness and profound discrimination have made the Muslim community particularly vulnerable to human rights violations”. Access to healthcare, education and livelihoods was severely constrained for the Muslim community as a result of movement restrictions and malnutrition rates in northern Rakhine were already above WHO emergency thresholds and higher than anywhere else in the country.
Prior to the 25 August attacks, there was a widespread campaign in the local media and on social media discrediting the UN and INGOs in Rakhine and accusing them of supporting terrorists. This began when the State Counsellor Office Information Committee published pictures of a box of WFP high energy biscuits that was reportedly found in an alleged abandoned “terrorist training camp”. This led to well organized protests across 13 townships across Rakhine State on 13 August calling for the Government to take action to combat terrorism and calling for the UN and INGOs to be expelled from Rakhine State.
Furthermore, on 27 August the State Counsellor Office Information Committee stated publically that authorities were investigating reports “that some INGO staff had participated while extremist terrorists besieged Taungbazar village.” In a statement on 29 August, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein warned all sides against further fueling the violence and called on “the political leadership to condemn the inflammatory rhetoric and incitement to hatred that was proliferating, including on social media”.