Humanitarian agencies are pleading with the government of Myanmar to let them help the displaced people of strife-torn Rakhine state, where a recent severe military crackdown has prevented the delivery of aid.
“Humanitarian organizations in Myanmar are gravely concerned about the crisis in northern Rakhine and call for access to all affected people in order to provide urgent life-saving support to people displaced or caught up in the conflict,” read a statement from INGO Forum Myanmar today.
The security crackdown comes on the heels of an Oct. 9 attack on three police border posts by insurgents believed to be Rohingya Muslims in the militant group Aqa Mul Mujahidin. Tensions between the stateless Rohingya minority ethnic group and majority Buddhist Rakhine have reached a high since a bloody conflict between the two groups killed hundreds in 2012 and displaced thousands others.
Allegations of serious human rights violations have also been mounting against the military crackdown in its search for 400 suspected militants. Witnesses reported security forces burning homes and mosques as well as arbitrarily arresting or even killing civilians, including children.
On Sunday the army forcibly evicted about 2,000 Rohingya from their homes in Kyee Kan Pyin village, according to witness accounts reported by Reuters. Hundreds of villagers are now hiding in rice paddies with their basic belongings and livestock to wait out the crackdown.
The government of Myanmar, under the de facto leadership of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, needs to conduct “proper investigations” into the allegations levied against security forces, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said in a statement released Monday. But even more urgently, humanitarian agencies need to be able to assess the extent of the crisis and actually deliver aid to the estimated 18,000 displaced people suffering the brunt of the conflict.
“What troubles me most is the lack of access for a proper assessment of the true picture of the situation there at the present moment,” U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee said in the statement. “The blanket security operations have restricted access for humanitarian actors with concerning consequences for communities’ ability to secure food and conduct livelihood activities.”
Restricted movement from the security crackdown blocked the delivery of food aid for 80,000 people from the World Food Program, according to Al Jazeera last week, and INGO Forum Myanmar says restrictions on movement are “halting ongoing programs such as health clinics and placing critical strains on existing stocks and supplies.”
Displaced people are having to “cross conflict lines in order to receive aid,” Amnesty International said in a press release on Thursday.
According to INGO Forum Myanmar, the government, local civil society and religious organizations are providing much needed aid, but a lot more is being offered that has yet to be accepted.
“[International nongovernmental organizations] have offered their support to provide additional assistance to those affected – if requested and accepted by local authorities and displaced communities,” the statement said.
However, resentment lingers within Buddhist Rakhine communities toward international aid, because they felt previous relief efforts were heavily directed toward Rohingya. Conversely, some believe the government disproportionately provides aid to Buddhist Rakhine.
Violence died down enough by Monday for some displaced residents to return home, Agence France-Presse reported. But so long as Myanmar’s 1.3 million Rohingya are denied citizenship and basic human rights and are living in squalid internally displaced persons camps or closely guarded villages, conflict will likely continue to escalate.