UNHCR deplores loss of life in boat tragedy off Myanmar

Briefing Notes, 5 November 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 5 November 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Sunday saw the latest in a series of recent boat tragedies, this time off the western coast of Myanmar. Dozens of people, including women and children, are still missing and feared dead.

According to available information some 70 people, presumed to be Rohingya from Myanmar's Rakhine state, were on the boat when it capsized on Sunday morning off the coast of the state capital Sittwe. Eight survivors have been reported so far.

As with the recent boat disasters on the Mediterranean, UNHCR's worry is that similar tragedies will follow unless actions are taken by concerned countries to address the causes and reduce the risks for those involved in dangerous journeys by sea. 2013 is by all accounts one of the worst years in terms of deadly incidents at sea.

Some 140,000 people remain internally displaced in Rakhine state following waves of inter-communal violence that started in June 2012. Those displaced include the Rohingya, ethnic Rakhine, Kaman and other communities. While most have moved into temporary shelters, the environment remains tense and longer-term solutions to displacement still need to be implemented.

Most Rohingya do not hold Myanmar citizenship and continue to face severe restrictions on their movements and suffer from discriminatory practices and denial of basic human rights. Many struggle to make a living and access services such as healthcare and education.

It is unacceptable that people are driven by such desperation into life-risking journeys, often falling into the hands of ruthless smugglers. UNHCR stands ready to assist the Government of Myanmar to address the root causes of this outflow, including seeking ways to resolve the statelessness of the Rohingya population.

To promote reconciliation and peaceful co-existence in Rakhine state, the government and international community also need to address challenges such as the lack of development: Rakhine state is Myanmar's second-poorest.

In parallel, we are appealing to countries in the region to strengthen search and rescue operations to prevent further loss of life at sea. We also urge regional governments to harmonize disembarkation and reception conditions and to offer temporary protection to people in need of international protection while durable solutions are sought.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Myanmar, Medea Savary on mobile +95 944 802 7892
  • In Bangkok (Regional), Vivian Tan on mobile +66 818 270 280
  • In Geneva, Babar Baloch, on mobile, +41 79 557 9106
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UNHCR country pages

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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