Interview

Building New IDP Camps Requires Security Considerations: Rakhine State Govt

By Min Aung Khine 5 May 2020

The Rakhine State government issued an order last Wednesday telling humanitarian relief groups not to set up camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in northern Rakhine State without its approval. The order addressed to the Sittwe District Management Committee went viral on social media.

The order is signed by Rakhine State Minister for Security and Border Affairs Colonel Min Than on behalf of Rakhine State Chief Minister U Nyi Pu. More than 160,000 people have been displaced in northern Rakhine due to fighting between the Tatmadaw, or Myanmar military, and the Arakan Army (AA).

With little hope of returning to their homes soon, the IDPs will face further challenges with the arrival of rainy season.

The Irrawaddy’s senior reporter Min Aung Khine recently talked to Rakhine State government spokesman and State Municipal Minister U Win Myint about the state’s plans to feed and shelter the IDPs.

Why did the government issue the order to not set up IDP camps without its approval? 

There was a previous case [the Myanmar military forced Sanyin IDP camp in Myebon Township to close in January]. So we said that if it is necessary to set up an IDP camp, we must be informed about it and its location. It is not good if [humanitarian groups] build the camps as they please without informing us. That’s why we issued the order.

Will the state government give permission if groups seek official approval?  

Yes, we will. We will give permission if the location is appropriate. It will mainly depend on the location. The IDP camp should not be built in an extremely sensitive area. If the location is appropriate, you can build the camp in consultation with the security and border affairs minister. We have to take security into consideration.

What are the government’s plans to assist the IDPs in coping with the rainy season? 

We built shelters last year to prevent difficulties for IDPs in the relevant townships, including Mrauk-U. I heard IDPs have moved into these shelters in Kyauktaw and Ponnagyun. There are also vacant shelters in Buthidaung and Rathedaung. It would be better for them to stay in those shelters. It will be convenient and secure for them in rainy season and the government will meet any other needs they have.

IDPs said that the government shelters were too hot to live in for hot season because their roofs and walls are corrugated metal sheets. They are also far from residential areas. As there is no regular supply of food, they said it is difficult for them to find food.

Previously, we even considered providing cooked meals to the IDPs who come and stay at government shelters. By cooked meals, I mean cooked foods and all cooking utensils would be provided by the Natural Disaster Management Department and supplemented by the state government. We thought about how to make this convenient for them.

But they can’t expect that all their requirements will be met. There will be differences between life at the shelters and at their homes. They also might have to struggle to find opportunities for work near them. There will more or less be difficulties when leaving behind your property. But if they come and stay in government shelters, the government is responsible for providing as much convenience as it can.

How many IDPs has the state government recorded in its tallies? 

I have yet to ask departments about the figures. Previously, I answered based on daily records of the departments. But now I haven’t asked departments for a long time because I haven’t been asked about those figures. Now COVID-19 takes priority and I have only been asked about COVID-19 figures, so I have yet to ask the departments.

Has the government adopted COVID-19 prevention and response plans for the IDP camps? 

The government has not taken specific measures for the IDPs regarding COVID-19. But the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement is undertaking education programs and providing other assistance.

My last question is, as clashes are going on in Rakhine and the number of IDPs is increasing. what assistance is the government providing for them? 

The Disaster Management Department of the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement takes responsibility for providing assistance. It supplies food to places which are short of food. The department also works in collaboration with the township general administration departments.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.

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