NAYPYIDAW, Mynamar — Aid operations in the predominantly Buddhist nation of Myanmar, specifically its northern Rakhine State, have become increasingly inhibited as the religious and ethnic based hostilities towards the local minority population of Rohingya Muslims has developed into hostilities towards the foreign aid workers themselves.
In late March of 2014, a series of attacks on both international aid workers and their offices in Myanmar’s Rakhine State was enacted by multiple Buddhist mobs. This resulted in the fleeing of international aid workers from the area along with at least 50 members of UN staff.
Offices of UN agencies, NGOs, as well as the guesthouses for the workers were looted, defaced, or damaged in these attacks. This violence was caused by a perceived favoring of the aid groups in the distribution of aid to the local minority populations of Rohingya Muslims.
In reaction to this international aid in the area has become increasingly reduced in, as various humanitarian agencies out of concern for their workers safety are curtailing operations. This curtailment of aid operations is sure to enact a tragic toll as hundreds of thousands still inhabiting camps for internally displaced persons inside the Rakhine State.
These large populations of internally displaced persons are legacy from the two bouts of communal violence between Rakhine Buddhists and the minority Rohingya Muslims in June and October 2012. This violence, besides resulting in the deaths of 200 individuals, also caused the displacement of more than 140,00 people, mostly Rohingyas.
Since 2013 the level of individuals inhabiting these camps for internally displaced individuals has not gone down by any significant margin. This has serious implications not only for these peoples lives, who are indefinitely estranged from their former residencies, but also for the local economies of the communities they were forced to leave.
These local economies are now struggling to deal with both large scale absences in the workforce as well as a shortage of consumers. Prior to this violence the economy of the Rakhine state was already one of the worst in Myanmar, with a poverty rate at 43.5 percent it was almost double Myanmar’s national poverty rate at 25.6 percent.
In 2013 it was estimated that there area 180,000 in need of humanitarian assistance in the Rakhine state, with 143,000 individuals internally displaced, and 103,000 relocated to temporary shelters. The curtailment of aid then holds significant implications for the provision of needed aid to these individuals.
In February 2014, the government of Myanmar ordered Médecins Sans Frontières ordering to cease operations in the area also due to perceived aid bias in favor of the minority Muslim Rohingya population. Médecins Sans Frontières, better known in English as Doctors Without Borders, were, until they were expelled, the largest non-governmental medical provider in the state.
This has had severe implications for the provision of healthcare and basic services across the nation. Many of the displaced Rohingya have little desire to see government physicians, which is all that is left to them due to the absence of Doctors Without Borders, and the widespread disruption of aid activities. This hesitation on the Rohingya’s part to see government physicians is the product of long state and societal persecution. This can be seen in the Myanmar’s laws terming the Rohingya as stateless, and the popular perception of them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, which neighbors the country.
After the large-scale violence of 2012, violence against them broke out again merely a year later, this time in central Myanmar. One example of this violence occurred in the town of Meiktila. Here the killing of a Buddhist monk, led to the formation of a 1,000 person mob, which rioted for two days. They enacted large scale violence on the both Muslim neighborhoods in the towns, and Muslims inhabitants of the town themselves, with 44 dead at least by the end of these riots. Among those dead were 20 students from a local Islamic school, as well as several of their teachers.
Currently then, despite the needs of both the local Rakhine State economy, and those displaced inside the area, aid operations are becoming increasingly limited in their actions. John Ging, operations director at the UN office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (also known by its abbreviation of OCHA) while speaking of this situation said, “ The humanitarian situation is still unacceptably dire for many people.”
In late July however, the government declared that Doctors Without Borders is resume operations in the nation. Despite this announcement though, to date the organization has not been allowed back inside the nation. This has lead many to see the government’s recent proclamation but then subsequent lack of action as a sign of uncertainty be the government over what path to take.
With this failure of the government to create decisive action, aid to this nation will continue to be severely inhibited. Thus, due to the society’s persecution of this one ethnic group, the entire nation’s citizenry suffers.
– Albert Cavallaro