One year on: Displacement in Rakhine state, Myanmar

Briefing Notes, 7 June 2013

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 7 June 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Up to 140,000 people remain displaced a year after inter-communal violence erupted in Myanmar's Rakhine State. UNHCR stands ready to provide the Myanmar government with technical support to register all internally displaced people (IDPs) and to promote reconciliation so that voluntary returns to places of origin can eventually take place in a safe and sustainable way.

The first wave of riots started in northern Rakhine State on 8 June last year and uprooted some 75,000 people across the state. Another 36,000 were displaced by a second wave of unrest in October. Many others who were not directly affected by the violence have lost their livelihoods as a result of restricted movements due to the security situation. Some have been forced to leave their homes in search of assistance. There are an estimated 13,000 people living in makeshift sites around the state capital Sittwe and some 2,800 people in Maungdaw who are not formally considered IDPs by the authorities and who have therefore not received aid systematically.

UNHCR is the lead agency for relief items, shelters, protection, camp coordination and camp management under the inter-agency response in Rakhine state. In the last year, we have distributed relief supplies such as plastic sheets, sleeping mats and kitchen sets for 75,000 IDPs. Supplementing the government's shelter program, we have provided tents, temporary or permanent shelters to 45,000 people. Additional shelters are being built by UNHCR for 25,000 IDPs in Pauktaw and Myebon townships who are vulnerable to flooding during the rainy season.

UNHCR has been working with the authorities and partner agencies to make sure that the IDPs receive adequate water, sanitation and health care services. This has been difficult in some areas, with aid workers being harassed or threatened and displaced people unable to move freely to access basic services. Many of the displaced children have been out of school for a year.

UNHCR has highlighted the urgent need to register all IDPs in order to improve aid delivery and better respond to the needs of the most vulnerable among them. While humanitarian assistance remains the priority for now, we are also working with the Government to advocate for action to promote dialogue and peaceful co-existence between the communities to pave the way for voluntary return.

Active steps must also be taken to stem the outflow of people from Rakhine state. Since last June, more than 27,000 people the majority believed to be from Rakhine state have embarked on dangerous boat journeys from the Bay of Bengal in search of safety and stability in other countries. Scores have died in their attempts. Many have endured weeks of drifting in the high seas with little food or water. Some were reportedly pushed back from the shores of neighbouring states, while others were detained upon arrival in South-east Asia.

UNHCR has appealed to governments in the region to keep their doors open to people in need of international protection. In parallel, we are asking the Myanmar authorities to urgently address the root causes of this outflow. They could do so by lifting restrictions on people without citizenship, facilitating freedom of movement, livelihoods and access to basic rights and services. Further steps should be taken to regularize their legal status, provide easy access to citizenship procedures to those who qualify, and promote development across Rakhine State. UNHCR expressed readiness provide technical assistance in addressing issues related to lack of citizenship.

UNHCR is seeking US$80 million to meet the needs of people of concern in Myanmar including IDPs in Rakhine, Kachin and the South-east till the end of the year. We have so far received 18 per cent of this amount.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Bangkok: Vivian Tan, on mobile +66 818 270 280
  • In Geneva: Babar Baloch, on mobile +41 79 557 9106
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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.

Living Silence: Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

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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