SITTWE, Arakan State — A delegation United Nation (UN), led by the under-secretary general of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), visited displaced communities outside of the Arakan State capital of Sittwe on Friday.
Reporters from The Irrawaddy accompanied Stephen O’Brien, who also serves as UN OCHA’s emergency relief coordinator, on the trip to one of the region’s internally displaced people’s (IDP) camps which have housed disproportionate numbers of the Rohingya Muslim minority since riots forced an estimated 140,000 people from their homes in 2012.
The delegation first visited Thet Kae Pyin IDP camp—isolated behind police checkpoints—and met Rohingya community leaders who asked O’Brien when they might be able to return to their homes and attain greater freedom of movement.
“I worry a lot about what will happen to my children’s generation, as they do not have education,” one leader said.
Khin Sein, a Rohingya midwife, spoke at the meeting of the difficulty faced by those in the camp regarding access to health care. If someone is sick and needs to go to a hospital in Sittwe, she said, they must rent a car and be accompanied by security forces. The cost of this trip alone can be 20,000-30,000 kyats (US$15-$23).
Upon arriving at the hospital, “we have to ask the police to buy food for us,” Khin Sein added. “If they do not, then we will have no food to eat.”
Income is difficult to come by in the camps, as jobs are scarce, limited to trishaw operation, the cultivation of small vegetable plots, and occasional fishing. Many Rohingya once owned tea shops, restaurants, and markets in Sittwe prior to the 2012 riots.
Kyaw Hla, an elderly Rohingya community leader, was once a politician.
He expressed frustration with the lack of recognition provided to the Muslim minority, who are labeled as “Bengali” by the government and have largely seen their citizenship revoked.
Even ex-dictator Ne Win recognized us as Rohingya, he said, unlike Burma’s last president, Thein Sein, who “treated us as outsiders,” a policy which he pointed out has continued.
“We have our house registration and our businesses there [in Sittwe]. But they took it,” he said, referring to the Arakanese Buddhist residents in the capital. Some Arakanese were also displaced in the riots, and were resettled; the WFP delegation also visited one such resettlement site.
At a meeting with the Arakanese community, UN OCHA’s O’Brien asked if there had been any recent communication with local Muslims. A group of women present in the meeting collectively said no.
“Why do we have to keep in touch with them?” she said. “We wish and pray to never stay with them again.”
O’Brien reminded the people present that the delegation was a humanitarian group and could not take sides, but rather, listen to people’s needs in order to improve their situation.
On the way back to Sittwe, a representative from the delegation said that after hearing from both sides, no solution was yet in sight to the crisis.