Myanmar: Humanitarian Bulletin, Issue 3 2017 | 23 September - 13 November 2017
Over 600,000 people flee Rakhine State since 25 August, while access for international organisations inside northern Rakhine remains restricted
Restrictions on humanitarian access in central Rakhine
Challenges in getting aid to displaced people in Kachin and Shan states
Launch of 2017 Action Plan for Disaster Risk Reduction
Displaced people with disabilities tell their own stories
IDPs in Kachin 89,000
IDPs in Shan 9,000
IDPs in Rakhine since 2012 129,000
Refugee arrivals in Bangladesh (Oct 2016-Jul 2017) 87,000
Refugee arrivals in Bangladesh (Oct- 12 Nov 2017) 616,000
New IDPs in Rakhine (Confirmed by Govt as at 10 Nov) 2,400
Over 600,000 people flee Rakhine State: world’s fastest growing refugee crisis
Refugees continue to arrive in Bangladesh while thousands more remain displaced inside Rakhine State
A humanitarian crisis continues to unfold on both sides of the Myanmar-Bangladesh border. This follows a series of attacks on police posts in northern Rakhine on 25 August by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) and subsequent security operations by the Myanmar Military that have resulted in the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis in Bangladesh and new humanitarian needs amongst people remaining in Rakhine.
A total of 616,000 people have fled across the border from northern Rakhine into Bangladesh between 25 August and 12 November, according to the United Nations team in Bangladesh.
There have been widespread allegations of attacks on civilians, threats and violence used to drive people out of their homes and other serious human rights violations, including the killing of civilians and largescale burnings of villages in Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung townships. The vast majority of the vulnerable people who are on the move are stateless Muslims who self-identify as Rohingya. The exodus of people from northern Rakhine has slowed in recent weeks but departures continue amid ongoing reports of arson, looting, harassment, loss of livelihoods and limited access to food.
Thousands of Muslim people also remain internally displaced or on the move inside northern Rakhine after their villages were burnt to the ground during the recent violence. The authorities have not provided figures on the number of Muslims who remain internally displaced in northern Rakhine and the UN has not been granted access to verify numbers and carry out a comprehensive needs assessment. Reports indicate that there are still thousands of vulnerable, internally displaced people who are waiting along the coast to cross by sea to Bangladesh. Many of them, including women, young children and the elderly, have reportedly been waiting weeks to make the crossing. These people are living in dire conditions and are in poor health and in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. Reports also indicate that many people are resorting to constructing their own makeshift rafts to try and make the crossing, rather than to continue to stay on the beach waiting for boats which reportedly are in limited supply and are becoming increasingly expensive. Some news outlets have also reported that some people are so desperate to leave that they are deciding to swim across the Naf River, clinging to plastic cooking oil containers as floatation devices, putting their lives at risk on these dangerous crossings. The Red Cross Movement is being granted access and is providing some humanitarian assistance, but reports continue to indicate that additional capacity is needed to address the full scope of humanitarian needs in northern Rakhine.
The United Nations Secretary-General has called on the authorities in Myanmar to end the violence, allow unhindered humanitarian access and recognize the right of refugees to voluntary return in safety and dignity. He has also called on them to “address the grievances of the Rohingya, whose status has been left unresolved for far too long”.
In addition to the affected Muslim population, the Government reported that as of 10 November, 2,420 Rakhine Buddhists and ethnic minority groups such as Mro, Daingnet and Hindu people remained internally displaced. This is down from 26,700 who were initially displaced according to Government figures, the rest having already returned. The Government has reported that it plans to close all the remaining evacuation sites for these people in November.
Humanitarian aid reaches people in northern Rakhine but more is needed
The Government continues to authorize humanitarian access for the Red Cross Movement in northern Rakhine. The Red Cross Movement reported that as of 6 November it had distributed emergency items to more than 39,000 people and food to more than 72,000 people since the crisis began and that cash, health and sanitation support is also being provided. In its statement, a Red Cross official said that the Red Cross Movement is doing all that it can to assist people in need but said that it cannot do this alone, referring to the need for other humanitarian organizations to re-engage.
The ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance (AHA Centre) has also separately dispatched about 80 tonnes of relief items for displaced communities in Rakhine State through the Government’s Relief and Resettlement Department.
Meanwhile, despite strong calls from the UN Secretary-General and other senior UN officials for unhindered humanitarian access, the Government continues to impose restrictions on the movements of staff from the UN and INGOs in northern Rakhine. Although most UN and INGO staff have not yet been authorized to resume humanitarian activities in northern Rakhine, some agencies are being permitted to carry out specific activities.
In Rathedaung township, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) has managed to deliver food assistance to vulnerable people in some areas, including the five remaining Muslim villages which have become isolated and remain vulnerable. In late October, WFP was granted permission to re-start food distributions in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships. In early November, WFP resumed distributions initially targeting 36,000 people. WFP coordinates with the government and Red Cross Movement to avoid overlaps with their own distributions. The UN World Health Organization (WHO) is providing some support, channeled through the Ministry of Health.
Other UN staff based in northern Rakhine are still not being allowed to move outside of Maungdaw town. As a result of the overall limitations on access, it has not been possible for the UN to conduct an independent comprehensive needs assessment in northern Rakhine.
The Government continues to report on distribution of food and other relief supplies by Government authorities in northern Rakhine, but the UN does not have comprehensive information on this. With thousands of acres of rice paddies having been abandoned by farmers who fled their homes in the period after 25 August, the looming rice harvest is an issue of particular concern. The Government has reportedly started to harvest 45,000 acres of abandoned rice paddies in northern Rakhine. To make this possible, the Agricultural Mechanization Department has brought in harvesting machines and workers from other areas. The Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development in Rakhine released a statement on 12 November saying that the harvest proceeds would be returned to their owners either as cash or in kind.
Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development in Rakhine
On 17 October, the Myanmar Government announced the establishment of a new “Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development in Rakhine”.
According to the Government, the aim of the entity is to support cooperation between the Union Government, the people, private sector, local NGOs, CSOs, partner nations, UN agencies and INGOs in the implementation of projects across all sectors for the development of Rakhine state. The Union Enterprise will focus on provision of humanitarian aid, coordination of resettlement and rehabilitation efforts, regional development and efforts to achieve durable peace. According to the State Counsellor’s Office, a total of 17 billion MMK (US$13 million) has already been donated by the private sector.
Visit of the State Counsellor to northern Rakhine On 2 November, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi visited Rakhine. During the daylong visit, which included visits to villages in northern Rakhine, she met with representatives of Muslim and Rakhine Buddhist communities, as well as minority ethnic groups.
According to media reports, in her meetings, she stated that the Government will provide humanitarian assistance and support the rule of law for the benefit of all communities. According to the Global New Light of Myanmar, the State Counsellor used the visit to urge people to cooperate in reconstruction and resettlement efforts. She stressed the need to provide aid and cash systematically, pledging that the government will also provide healthcare services and security. The Global New Light of Myanmar reported that her visit included an inspection of a camp site where returnees from Bangladesh would be temporarily accommodated. After visiting northern Rakhine, the State Counsellor, in her capacity as chair of the Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development in Rakhine Committee, held a meeting with authorities in Sittwe, urging them to solve the Rakhine issue through diplomatic efforts, reconstruction/development and a focus on security.
Agreements on refugee returns from Bangladesh
The governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh are involved in an ongoing bilateral dialogue to agree on the voluntary repatriation of the refugees. A joint working group will reportedly be formed by late November. UNHCR has not been asked to participate in the discussion at this stage. UNHCR’s involvement would help ensure the return of the refugees is conditioned to key international principles of voluntariness, safety and dignity being met.
On October 31, UNHCR held a workshop on voluntary repatriation jointly with the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement. The Minister of Social Welfare, Minister of Labour, Immigration and Population and various other senior officials attended, including the Chair of the Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Relief and Development. The event took place to provide participants with a better understanding of the international standards guiding voluntary repatriation, as well as UNHCR’s role in the process.