UNHCR redeploys further staff to Myanmar's Rakhine State as relative calm returns

Briefing Notes, 29 June 2012

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 29 June 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

On Wednesday, more UNHCR staff returned to Myanmar's Rakhine State to help address immediate humanitarian needs there. An earlier team had gone back on 20 June, joining others of our staff who never left.

We are also participating in a joint visit by the government, UN, NGOs and representatives from donor countries to areas affected by the violence. They will spend two or three days in Rakhine State.

As part of the overall UN humanitarian response, UNHCR staff in Sittwe have begun needs assessments in the relief camps. So far we have covered approximately 30 locations hosting people displaced by the recent violence and distributed UNHCR relief items (mainly blankets, tarpaulins, kitchen sets and mosquito nets) to some 5,000 people in several of these camps. Trucks with UNHCR supplies for a further 35,000 people will reach Sittwe early next week.

Our staff who have visited camps for the displaced have found children, elderly people, women, and men sleeping on the ground, and in need of floor mats, heavy tarpaulins, blankets and mosquito nets. We and our partners are concerned about the possibility of disease outbreaks because of poor water supplies and sanitation at a time when it is raining heavily.

According to the Myanmar authorities, more than 52,000 people have been displaced during the riots. Our sister agency, the World Food Programme, reports having distributed food to some 91,000 people who were affected by the violence that started on 08 June. The Myanmar authorities are currently running more than 80 temporary camps for displaced people in five townships. Considering the extent of the destruction we estimate that many people may have to stay out of their homes and villages for three months or more.

At the request of the government UNHCR and other agencies will also start assessing both the short and long term shelter needs, with a view to addressing these as soon as possible. Together with other partners, UNHCR continues to assist and distribute humanitarian aid impartially, on the basis of need, to all the communities and victims of the recent disturbances.

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Myanmar IDPs pick up the pieces in Rakhine state

A humanitarian crisis is unfolding across Myanmar's Rakhine state, where some 115,000 people are desperately in need of aid after being displaced during two waves of inter-communal violence in June and October 2012. The displaced, most of them ethnic Rohingya, have sought shelter in temporary relief camps and others remain scattered across the state, living under tight security in their destroyed villages. Conditions are harsh: the camps are overcrowded and some lack even the most basic of sanitation facilities while many of the villages are totally destroyed and running low on water. In one village, more than 32 families were living cheek-by-jowl in just two large tents. The children have no access to education and the newborn and elderly are in a very vulnerable position due to a lack of medical facilities. UNHCR is distributing relief supplies and working with the authorities and partners to improve camp conditions, but international assistance is required.

Myanmar IDPs pick up the pieces in Rakhine state

Living Silence: Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

"Living Silence" is a photographic exhibition of one of the world's most enduring refugee crises, by award-winning photographer Saiful Huq Omi.

Bangladesh has hosted refugees for over three decades. Today, 28,000 refugees from Myanmar known as the Rohingya - an ethnic, religious and linguistic minority people - are living in the two official refugee camps in the south-east of Bangladesh. Over half of them are children, many of whom have only ever experienced life in the camps. It is estimated that there are a further 200,000 Rohingya living outside the camps, unable to return to Myanmar where they fear persecution and exploitation.

Like refugees around the world, the Rohingya refugees are survivors. They are living in transience, waiting for the day they can go home in safety and in dignity. Until then, like any other people, they aspire to live a life free from violence and exploitation.

Together with other UN agencies and NGOs, UNHCR provides shelter, water, primary education and health care to refugees from Myanmar in the Nayapara and Kutupalong camps. UNHCR is also working with governments around the world to resettle some of the most vulnerable.

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Climate change and displacement

In the past few years, millions of people have been displaced by natural disasters, most of which are considered to be the direct result of climate change. Sudden weather events, such as Myanmar's Cyclone Nargis in 2008, widespread flooding in Kenya's Dadaab refugee camps in 2006 and the drought that hit Ethiopia in the 1980s, can leave huge numbers of people traumatized and without access to shelter, clean water and basic supplies.

The international community has entrusted UNHCR with responsibility for protecting and assisting people who are forcibly displaced and who cannot return safely home. Although the majority of people displaced by climate change will remain within their own borders, where states have clearly defined responsibilities, additional support may be required.

When called upon to intervene, UNHCR can deploy emergency teams and provide concrete support in terms of registration, documentation, family reunification and the provision of shelter, basic hygiene and nutrition.

Among those who are displaced across borders as a result of climate change, some will be refugees while others may not meet the definition. Nevertheless, many may be in need of protection and assistance.

Climate change and displacement

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