(Yangon, 14 October 2016) - Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, concluded his three-day mission to Myanmar today. His trip took place shortly after the outbreak of violence in the northern part of Rakhine State and at a time of escalating armed clashes in Kachin. He expressed deep concern regarding recent developments and called for all sides to find peaceful ways to resolve differences rather than choosing the path of violence. He also called on all parties to uphold their responsibilities to protect people affected by violence and conflict and to ensure humanitarian access to people in need.
In meetings with State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other Government officials, the Emergency Relief Coordinator welcomed Myanmar’s recent transition to democracy and the progress that has been made by the Government, local communities, and national organizations in preparing for and responding to natural disasters. He acknowledged the tremendous work that lies ahead to continue to make progress on a number of critical fronts, including addressing humanitarian issues in the country. Mr. O’Brien stated that “humanitarian need is our only measure and impartial aid our only goal.” He stressed that the United Nations is a key partner to the Government and that it stands ready to provide the required support to enable the Government to meet the needs of its people.
In Kachin and Shan States, almost 100,000 people remain displaced due to armed conflict and are unable to return home because of continued fighting and the deadly threat posed by landmines. Mr. O’Brien welcomed the Government’s support in facilitating his travel to conflict-affected areas on both sides of the conflict line. He expressed concern that humanitarian aid to some areas had recently been blocked and urged local authorities to drop their demand for displaced people in some areas to cross an active conflict line in order to receive humanitarian assistance. He stressed that many of those currently receiving humanitarian assistance are women and children, elderly, sick or disabled people. “It was very important for me to visit people on both sides of the conflict line, to see first-hand the impact of the conflict on vulnerable communities. I spoke with people who fled violence more than five years ago and who are simply waiting for the guns to go silent before they can go home,” said Mr. O’Brien.
Mr. O’Brien also travelled to Sittwe in Rakhine State where he visited displaced Muslims in camps as well as a recently resettled Rakhine community, all of whom were affected by inter-communal violence in 2012. He saw the level of poverty that the people of Rakhine endure and witnessed the dire living conditions and hardships endured by Muslim communities who are still denied freedom of movement. He also met with some distressed Rakhine women who had only just arrived in Sittwe after fleeing the recent violence in northern Rakhine.
“The recent violence in Rakhine State is deeply troubling and the immediate priority must be to prevent further violence and to ensure the protection of all civilians. The situation is affecting all communities in Rakhine and has further disrupted the provision of health, education, and other essential services for some of the most vulnerable, particularly the Muslim communities who are not allowed to move freely.”
“When I was in Rakhine State, I talked to people about their suffering and their inadequate access to essential services including health and education. All people in Rakhine State, irrespective of their ethnicity, religion or citizenship status, must have safe access to their nearest hospital or medical centre, to regular schools and to livelihoods.”
Around 120,000 people, most of whom are Muslims who call themselves Rohingya, are still living in displacement camps, four years after the outbreak of inter-communal violence in Rakhine State.
“Freedom of movement is clearly what is needed most. Without this, people are going to remain dependent on humanitarian aid. But for this to happen, more work needs to be done to build trust between the communities. We must work with the Government on practical ways of achieving this, in line with Aung San Suu Kyi’s stated commitment of bringing peace to the whole country. That is her priority and it’s the priority of all those I spoke with during my visit. It is our priority too.”
The Myanmar Humanitarian Response Plan for 2016 is 55 per cent funded (US$104 million), leaving a gap of $86 million. More funding is urgently required to scale-up the humanitarian response across the country, particularly in education and health.
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