UNHCR alarmed at IDP deaths in Rakhine State, western Myanmar

Briefing Notes, 28 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 28 June 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The UN refugee agency is concerned at a violent incident yesterday in western Myanmar's Rakhine state that killed two internally displaced people and wounded six others including two minors.

The incident took place on Thursday morning in the Kyein Ni Pyin IDP camp in Pauktaw township of Rakhine state. This is a site where UNHCR has been building temporary shelters for some 4,400 Rohingya displaced by last year's inter-communal violence.

The incident is believed to have started over a dispute between displaced people and a village leader. A reportedly poor relationship between them had been compounded by false rumours that displaced people would be isolated and prevented from returning to their places of origin. When some of the displaced gathered at a nearby military post asking that the leader be handed over, gunfire was used by the authorities to disperse the crowd and resulting in the fatalities and wounding.

UNHCR staff arrived at the scene shortly after to follow up with the victims' families and facilitate medical attention to the injured. We are also concerned about the safety of the village leader and his family.

UNHCR is calling for an investigation into the incident. We are appealing to the authorities to handle the matter in a peaceful and calm way to avoid fuelling further violence and loss of life. We are also calling for dialogue between the involved parties to resolve the grievance. Joint efforts by the government, community leaders and humanitarian actors are also needed to dispel rumours about the rights of displaced people to return to their places of origin in Kyein Ni Pyin and other villages where these sentiments have been emerging.

As the lead agency for shelter, camp coordination, camp management and protection in the humanitarian response in Rakhine state, UNHCR's current priority is to provide temporary relief for the displaced during the rainy season. We strongly believe that the government must build confidence with the communities and promote reconciliation, so that those displaced can eventually return to their areas of origin.

Thursday's tragic incident also indicates the urgent need to strengthen the camp coordination and camp management work which is grossly underfunded despite current needs.

A year after the first wave of inter-communal violence erupted in June 2012, there are still up to 140,000 people displaced within Rakhine state.

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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

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"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.

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