Burma Suspends All Aid Operations of MSF

Rohingya, MSF, humanitarian aid, United States, Myanmar, Médicine Sans Frontièrs, medical aid, religious violence, inter-communal violence, Buddhism, Muslim

A Rohingya family have a meager meal in a camp for displaced Muslim families near Sittwe in May 2013. (Photo: Jpaing / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — The government has suspended all operations of Médicine Sans Frontièrs (MSF) in Burma following disagreements over the implementation of aid programs in Arakan State, where the group offered vital medical aid to Rohingya Muslims.

MSF said in a statement Friday night that it was “deeply shocked by this unilateral decision and extremely concerned about the fate of tens of thousands of patients currently under our care across the country.”

The President’s Office spokesman Ye Htut told The Irrawaddy earlier on Friday that MSF Holland’s projects in Arakan State had violated certain conditions of its memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the government.

He said the alleged violations had led to a government decision to refrain from renewing the current MoU, which had expired last year.

On Friday afternoon, it seemed that discussions were still ongoing on whether or not MSF operations in other regions could continue, but a MSF statement released around 8 pm said all medical aid operations had come to an end.

“Today, for the first time in MSF’s history of operations in the country, HIV/AIDS clinics in [Arakan], Shan and Kachin states, as well as [Rangoon] division, were closed and patients were unable to receive the treatment they needed,” MSF said.

“TB patients were unable to receive their life-saving medicine, including drug-resistant TB patients. This decision by the Union Government will have a devastating impact on the 30,000 HIV/AIDS patients and more than 3,000 TB patients we are currently treating in Myanmar.”

“In [Arakan] state, MSF was unable to provide primary health care to the tens of thousands of vulnerable people in camps displaced by the ongoing humanitarian crisis or in isolated villages,” the group said.

“There is no other medical non-government organization that operates at the scale of MSF with the experience and infrastructure to deliver necessary life-saving medical services,” the group said.

MSF Holland has operated in Burma since 1992 and implements medical aid projects in Arakan, which has suffered from inter-communal violence between Rohingyas and the Buddhist Arakanese majority, and in Shan, Kachin and Karen states, which are affected by ethnic conflict.

The US Embassy said on Friday afternoon that it was aware of the reported suspension of MSF operations and voiced concern over the impact on local communities.

“The United States encourages the Union Government to continue to work
with the international community to provide humanitarian assistance to
communities in need and to ensure unfettered access for humanitarian
agencies, in accordance with international standards,” the embassy said.

Ye Htut said he attended meetings in Naypyidaw with Health Ministry officials Friday, where MSF was informed of supposed wrongdoings during aid work in Arakan State.

He said MSF had deployed more foreign staff then it was allowed to, had failed to stay impartial and neutral, and had run a medical care clinic for newborns against the wishes of the government.

“I told them how they had violated their agreement at a meeting today and … they admitted that they have some weak points,” he said, adding that Arakan State authorities and local communities had also urged the central government to halt MSF aid work.

“For example, we only allow them to have 19 foreign staff [in Arakan], but we found on the ground that they have 39 persons who were foreigners… and there were many persons who did not have registration to treat patients.”

Ye Htut went on to claim that MSF “only gave medical treatment to Bengalis,” before adding, “We are not against the whole MSF, we are only against some foreigners who working with MSF.”

Asked if he thought that government decision to halt MSF operations would hurt the international image of the Thein Sein government, Ye Htut said,   “I do not think they would take this view because there are many NGOs working in our country. [The international community] will know we did it to those who violated agreements.”

Burma’s government does not recognize the approximately 1 million Rohingyas in northern Arakan State as citizens, and refers to the Muslim group as “Bengalis” to suggest that they are illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay and international human rights say the Rohingyas are subject to a range of grave human rights abuses at the hands of authorities and security forces, while government restrictions on the group, such as travel restrictions, violate basic human rights.

Authorities have been accused of colluding with the Arakanese Buddhist communities during bloody clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in 2012, which left almost 200 people dead. About 140,000 people, mostly Rohingyas, fled their homes and have since been forced to live in squalid, crowded camps.

Although the government claims that MSF has violated its MoU, the group’s current problems seem to be linked to a Jan. 13 incident in Du Chee Yar Tan, a Rohingya village in Maungdaw Township. The UN said it received “credible evidence” to indicate that Arakan villagers and government security forces were involved in an alleged massacre of dozens of Rohingyas.

In the wake of the incident, MSF said it had treated 22 patients who were wounded in the supposed attack on Du Chee Yar Tan village. The statement prompted an angry reaction from the government, which accused international media and aid groups of misreporting the events.

Burma’s government has vehemently denied the killings took place and government investigations claim that Rohingya villagers killed an on-duty police sergeant. Last week, the National Human Rights Commission said that “it was learned from 2 doctors of the MSF that their clinics did not treat any such patients.”

Ye Htut said MSF had refused to identify the Muslim patients from Du Chee Yar Tan village, adding “They should show to the investigation commission who they treated, but they did not show these persons to us.”

Additional reporting by Paul Vrieze.

9 Responses to Burma Suspends All Aid Operations of MSF

  1. Thirty thousand people living with HIV without their medicines? Now is the time to watch the commitment of stakeholders in health and HIV in Myanmar. Which ones will take action? And on a weekend, too!

  2. By expelling world’s renown NGO, Myanmar regime will get blamed from many corners from international communities. If MSF came into Myanmar for Bengali people, Myanmar regime must tell it not to interfere the politics in Myanmar. MSF may never understand what has been going on in Rakhine State. We all know the feeling of the Rakhines who lose their land every single day to Bengali people. The Rakhines can no longer allow to keep happening that. The regime failed to safeguard the border for too many years which was the core reason we are having this mess. Border Patrol must be very important from now on to seal off from letting illegal aliens crossing the border. MFS must be taught lessons and keep them to serve all needy people regardless of origins or colors or genders.

  3. Well, this is a devastating news.
    Some people in the MSF might have been doing some wrongs, which should be cleared by the MSF. Why can’t they?
    Still, the government action is extraordinary. It is a perverted reaction, not properly reasoned. It appears it wants to punish the MSF. But those it punishes are patients MSF is treating. Termination of MSF operations in this country is regrettable, a self-defeatist attitude. After all, this decision in a flash of anger is not workman-like, but military-like.
    I wish they should review their decision and re-accept MSF’s good work in other parts of the country, if not in the State of Rakhine.

  4. “For example, we (Ye Htut)only allow them to have 19 foreign staff [in Arakan], but we found on the ground that they have 39 persons who were foreigners… and there were many persons who did not have registration to treat patients.”
    Ye Htut, like notorious ne win and fox than shwe that he is suffering from xerophobia disorder or paranoid disorder about foreign invasion, including Muslim money to overwhelm Bama economy. Foreign invasion means ” marriage to foreigner, holding of foreign citizenship, holding of foreign money( because bama money are casual printing from than shwe’s house), all ethnics’ invasion to Rangoon, Mandalay and Naypyidaw, particularly ethnic Muslim, Chinese and Indian as well.
    Ye Htut and his fox only likes free-lunch from all ethnics’ resources and arm support/sale from all countries for his private army. Therefore, many their mouth pieces of newspapers are writing about Chinese business invasion ( see Tay za comment on Jade business) as well in order to cover their lazy, unfair opportunistic behavior.
    Ye Htut copies fox than shwe who prevented US navy for helping Nargic victim in 2008 Nargic cyclone.

  5. Thank you U Thein Sein government to protect the local people from discrimination by foreign bodies. However, we suggest to assist anybody who are in need of medical assistance at the expense of own resources and energy. Whenever we depend on foreign resources unhealthy issues always happens as happened as before. Please settle the situation in Arakan state as fairly as possible but need to be firm not to repeat the blood shed again. It is suggestible to deploy infantry, navy and air force heavily in the border area ( Maungdaw district) because it is hurt to know that Police were missed. It should not happen to be defeated by villagers as if there anarchy.

  6. MSF Removal: 1st Step into Rohingya Extermination

    After sustained protest by Rakhine locals about MSF’s alleged ‘bias activities’ favouring Rohingyas, the Burmese government ordered suspension of that organization. This, definitely, is serving well to the RNDP agenda of marginalizing Rohingyas: removing Rohingya supporters, the MSF, to be the first step!

    Remember, MSF is the very same NGO which vehemently opposed, and expressed ‘grave concerns’, at the UNHCR’s organized “voluntary repatriation” of 1994. The MSF organization, obviously then, went into Rakhine State and operating under the shadows of MOU signed by UNHCR and Burmese Government. This incident should be a great eye opener for the MSF — whilst in no doubt magnificent in delivering humanitarian services to a targeted population — not to be too self-righteous about everything going-on around it.

    Perhaps what MSF needs to do at this stage is to compile some “Awareness Survey” of what the local Rakhines know & think about its operation in Rakhine State. Or even better, do a proper survey of its own staffs on that awareness and reflect upon what went wrong.

    Burmese Government, on the otherhand, is too heavy handed in handling this case. Wouldn’t it be sufficient just to review the MSF operations within Rakhine State? I have emphasized the needs for international assistance given to the Rohingyas also benefit local Rakhine population in my communication to Under Secretary General Jan Eliasson ( http://www.netipr.org/uneoo/file.php?f=u54uFf.Iqe5fv.7 ) as early as 1993.

    All the NGOs and our Rohingya supporters alike should be aware that ultra-nationalist groups like RNDP will always draw their strength upon un-informed masses, such as those Rakhine locals who participated in the march aganist MSF/Foreign-NGOs protests in Rakhine State. Extra efforts are needed to educate these masses. This shouldn’t be the job of a single media outlet nor an organization nor, even, a government. Everyone concerned within society must get involved.

    In Solidarity,
    U Ne Oo, Australia.

  7. Of course it is unilateral because the government of a country decided that and they don’t need MSF consent! The MSF Holland obviously expressed their biased attitude. In the Dutch press this sentiment towards the muslims is also aired widely, as it seems to be politically correct or at least the savest thing to prevent terrorist attacks.
    By the way, all other activities of MSF has NOT been abolished.

  8. Is it acceptable that these malnourish, living in jail like environment are capable of swallowing Rakhine state?. What about Bangladesh economy comparing with Burma? Is Burma worthy to come from Bangladesh and living in Jail. Why all UN, UNHCR and MSF support Rohingya community? The answer to all these questions is systematic rooting out program for this community from Rakhine state by central Government and local Government. Rakhine has its own rebel group. No body raise question about these separatist group.

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