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UN appeals for humanitarian access in Myanmar's restive regions

Government so far only allows World Food Program and Red Cross into Rakhine State

UN appeals for humanitarian access in Myanmar's restive regions

Rohingya refugees from Myanmar's Rakhine State wait for aid in the Bangladeshi town of Teknaf on Sept. 12, 2017. A senior U.N. official has voiced concerns over continued restrictions imposed by Myanmar’s government on humanitarian workers in Rakhine. (Photo by Munir Uz Zaman/AFP)

John Zaw, Mandalay
Myanmar

April 9, 2018

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A U.N. official has called for unfettered humanitarian access to several crisis-hit states of Myanmar including restive Rakhine where large numbers of the Rohingya Muslim minority have fled security forces for Bangladesh since August.

Ursula Mueller, assistant secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and deputy emergency relief coordinator, said in a statement April 8 that restrictions on humanitarian access in Myanmar have "significantly worsened" in the past year.

Mueller said it was not only a problem in Rakhine State but also in Kachin and Shan States where some humanitarian aid efforts have been hampered.

"When you cut that humanitarian lifeline, there is a very real human impact," Mueller said as she concluded a six-day Myanmar visit.

In Rakhine, humanitarian assistance by the U.N. and non-governmental organizations has been restricted since violence in the state's north broke out on Aug. 25 after Rohingya militants attacked a number of border posts. Since then more than 688,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar's military to become refugees in neighboring Bangladesh.

"There is a humanitarian crisis on both sides of the Bangladesh-Myanmar border that is affecting the world's largest group of stateless people," said Mueller.

"The unfolding tragedy in the refugee camps in Cox's Bazar rightly captured the world's attention, but we cannot, and must not, forget the plight of over 400,000 Muslim people still living in Rakhine State who continue to face a life of hardship and marginalization due to movement restrictions.  

"These restrictions [on humanitarian access] severely compromise their rights and obstruct their access to health, livelihoods, protection, education and other essential services."

The Myanmar government has so far only allowed the World Food Program (WFP) and the Red Cross to access Rakhine State.

The Red Cross said it has been providing more than 200,000 people with aid in the state's affected regions.

Numar, a Rohingya resident from Pan Taw Pyin village, Maungdaw township in northern Rakhine, said villagers have received food items from WFP and the Red Cross.

"It is just enough for survival," Numar told ucanews.com. "People here have no employment opportunities." 

Kachin and northern Shan States

Aid workers say there are restrictions on providing humanitarian assistance to the camps for internally displaced persons (IDP), especially in non-governmental control areas in Kachin and northern Shan States.

But Eddie, a program manager of Karuna (Caritas) Myanmar's Lashio branch, said as a church-based organization it has not been facing any difficulties in providing humanitarian assistance to the IDP camps in northern Shan State.

"For the U.N. and INGOs, there are more restrictions on providing humanitarian assistance and more of a need to inform the respective authorities," Eddie told ucanews.com.

"Humanitarian workers who are foreigners are mostly based in Lashio as they need to await long process for permission to go beyond Lashio." 

In Kachin and northern Shan States, fighting between Myanmar military and ethnic rebels renewed in June 2011. Since then more than 100,000 people affected by the conflict have sought refuge in camps.

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