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Myanmar invites medical aid service MSF back to Rakhine

Health crisis has grown since MSF was expelled from state

Myanmar invites medical aid service MSF back to Rakhine

Before its expulsion, MSF was highly active in aiding displaced Rohingya people in Rakhine. File picture: AFP Photo/Soe Than Win

AFP, Yangon

July 25, 2014

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Myanmar on Thursday invited Doctors Without Borders (MSF) to resume work in Rakhine state, which is gripped by a severe health crisis nearly five months after the medical aid group was ejected from the region.

The ministry of health has requested MSF to return to the unrest-plagued western state, where hundreds of thousands of people have been left with almost no access to healthcare after authorities told the group to leave in late February.

"As human beings we all commit errors and the errors usually lie on both sides," President's Office Minister Soe Thein said at a press conference.

Listing the 24 international aid groups operating in Rakhine, he said "we invite all to join hands with us... especially MSF."

The minister said that Myanmar would guarantee the safety of MSF's staff in Rakhine, where it faced protests against its activities from nationalist Buddhists who accused it of giving preferential treatment to stateless Rohingya Muslims.

But the government has yet to specify whether the group will be able to fully resume its work in the region.

MSF, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999 and has operated in Myanmar for 22 years, welcomed the move in a statement saying it hoped to expand "life-saving" care amid "a humanitarian crisis."

Some 140,000 people, mainly Rohingya, are trapped in miserable camps in Rakhine state following violence between Buddhists and Muslims in 2012 that left around 200 dead.

The United Nation's assistant secretary general Kyung-Wha Kang in June raised concerns about "appalling conditions" in the camps.

MSF provided primary healthcare services in several remote areas near the border with Bangladesh where Rohingya communities have long lived under severe restriction of movement and are largely unable to access state facilities.

The group was ejected from the state after saying it treated injured people in northern Rakhine near a village where the UN said dozens of Rohingya were killed in an attack by majority ethnic Rakhines, who are Buddhist. The government has rejected the claims.

In March Buddhist extremists attacked warehouses and property of other international groups in the state capital Sittwe, causing most humanitarian organisations to pull their staff from the region.

The UN estimates that 70 percent of these workers have now returned, but this does not include the approximately 500 MSF staff who had been operating in the state.

Myanmar's government has long considered the Rohingya to be foreigners, while many citizens see them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and view them with hostility.

Many Rohingya have tried to flee Rakhine by sea, risking rough waters and exploitation by trafficking networks in their efforts to reach Malaysia and further afield.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) estimates more than 86,000 people have left by boat from the Bay of Bengal since June 2012. Some 15,000 attempted the journey between January and April this year alone. AFP



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