Food and shelter urgently needed as more people uprooted in western Myanmar

Briefing Notes, 2 November 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 2 November 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

In western Myanmar's Rakhine state the government now estimates that more than 35,000 people have now been displaced by the ongoing inter-communal violence. UNHCR staff have travelled to affected villages and found groups of displaced people in urgent need of food and shelter.

The Myanmar authorities have granted permission for humanitarian teams to assess the situation and needs in areas affected by unrest that started nearly two weeks ago. In the last two days UNHCR staff have conducted inter-agency visits to several villages in Myebon, Mrauk-U and Minbya townships, to the east and north-east of Rakhine's state capital Sittwe.

The police and army were present in all the villages visited. Our staff spoke to displaced people who shared their fears of being attacked again if the troops leave. Medical staff in the assessment teams were able to treat many of the wounded, including people suffering from burns, gunshot and arrow injuries. There were also a number of new mothers 14 in two villages who said their labour had been induced by the violence. They reported having difficulties breastfeeding. A few families said children had been left behind when they fled. Among the children who made it to safety many were malnourished.

Most of the displaced people UNHCR staff met said they needed food and shelter material. Aid agencies including UNHCR have sent food and plastic sheets but there are still many needs to be met.

One village, Pauk Taw Nagara, is now home to more than 1,500 people who fled from a neighbouring village. The displaced people are living in a school and receiving help from the local community. They report having limited cooking materials with families having to take turns to cook. Many are not eating a first meal until late in the afternoon.

Several thousand others have sought refuge in existing camps for displaced people near Sittwe. Concerned about overcrowding in these camps, the authorities are working to find other areas to host the new influx. On Wednesday they moved a group of 680 people who had arrived in Sittwe eastwards to Sin Tet Maw. The transfer took place on 15 boats and the group joined some 3,700 people who had already found refuge there. UNHCR has been given access to assess their needs.

As part of the inter-agency response to the situation in Rakhine state, UNHCR is sending additional plastic sheets, mosquito nets and blankets to areas including Myebon, Kyauk Taw, Rathedaung and Pauk Taw. All assistance is being provided on an impartial basis regardless of background or ethnic origin.

The latest wave of unrest brings to 110,000 the total number of people displaced by inter-communal violence in Rakhine state since June this year. UNHCR has joined the international community in calling for an immediate return to calm between the communities.

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