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UN envoy wants freedom of movement for Rohingya in Rakhine

Burgener says trust cannot be built without access to health care, education and livelihoods

UN envoy wants freedom of movement for Rohingya in Rakhine

An elderly Rohingya Muslim stands in front of his home in Buthidaung Township in Myanmar's restive Rakhine State during a government-organized visit for journalists on Jan. 25. Many Rohingya have limited freedom of movement in Rakhine. (Photo by AFP)

The United Nations special envoy on Myanmar has stressed freedom of movement is vital in building trust in strife-torn Rakhine State, where thousands of Rohingya remain restricted.

Christine Schraner Burgener said freedom of movement is key for all people and their access to livelihoods. “Without freedom of movement, children cannot go to local schools and people still cannot access hospitals. It is important to rebuild trust,” she said in a statement as she wrapped up her 12-day visit on Jan. 29.

Burgener said her visit to Sittwe, the capital city of Rakhine where many Rohingya are in internally displaced person (IDP) camps, focused on the “obstacles and potential solutions” for freedom of movement.

More than 120,000 Rohingya remain in camps in apartheid-like conditions and more than 200,000 are scattered in villages in central Rakhine. They have been severely restricted from freedom of movement, access to health care and education since 2012 violence.

The Kofi Annan-led Rakhine Commission established in 2016 recommended that the government take concrete steps to end enforced segregation of Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims. It also recommended full and unfettered humanitarian access through the state and for the government to revisit the 1982 citizenship law that resulted in most Rohingya being rendered stateless and without voting rights.

Burgener said she had encouraged IDPs to consider applying for national verification cards (NVCs) so that they could move around Myanmar.

Authorities have been keen to issue NVCs to Rohingya in Rakhine but many refuse to accept because they feel they are being treated as foreigners.

Kyaw Hla Aung, a Rohingya from Thetkaepyin IDP camp near Sittwe, said the situation is not improving for Rohingya as they remain restricted from freedom of movement.

“We don’t trust Myanmar’s authorities plan to issue NVCs as it is not mentioned in any existing laws. We don’t need to apply as we have been living here along with ethnic Rakhine for decades,” Kyaw Hla Aung told ucanews.com.

Burgener’s recent visit was her third to Myanmar since she was appointed special envoy in April 2018.

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She is working with Myanmar’s government on how the U.N. can help the return and resettlement of more than 700,000 Rohingya who fled a bloody crackdown by Myanmar’s military in August 2017 following attacks on police posts by a Rohingya militant group.

UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore has called for investment in the country’s most vulnerable children regardless of religion, ethnicity or citizenship status after visiting a Rakhine camp designed as a temporary shelter that has been housing families for more than six years.

“Living conditions are suboptimal, to say the least, stripping children of their dignity and exposing them to violence, exploitation, disease and neglect. Families are confined to the camps, depriving them of a livelihood and leaving their children malnourished,” Fore said in a statement on Jan. 30 after a three-day visit to Myanmar.

“For younger children, confinement is the only reality they have ever known.”

Both Burgener and Fore avoided using the term “Rohingya” in their statements. Myanmar’s government regards the Rohingya as Bengalis. By not recognizing the term "Rohingya," the government has implied that they are illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh despite vast numbers having lived in Myanmar for decades.

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