Medical Aid for Rohingya Could Resume After MSF Signs MoU With Govt

By Saw Yan Naing 10 September 2014

International medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières said it has signed a new memorandum of understanding with the Burmese government, paving the way for the group’s return to Arakan State and the resumption of vital medical aid operations for Rohingya Muslims in the state.

“Médecins Sans Frontières Holland (MSF-H) welcomes the step taken by the Ministry of Health (MoH) of Myanmar by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with MSF to establish a framework for our medical activities in Kachin, Rakhine [Arakan] and Shan states, as well as in the Yangon [Rangoon] Region,” the group said in statement released on Tuesday.

“MSF is committed to fully develop this agreement and stands ready in cooperation with the MoH to resume operations in Rakhine [Arakan] at any time. We hope this measure translates into an early resumption of our activities in Rakhine and provides the opportunity to engage with the communities on the ground,” it said.

“The signing of the MoU will allow MSF, the MoH and associated technical departments to work close together to ensure best care for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis (TB) and malaria patients in Myanmar,” the group added.

A MSF communications officer contacted by The Irrawaddy said the agreement had been signed on Monday but declined to provide further details of the agreement and how it was reached.

In late February, the central government suspended all operations of MSF in Burma, alleging that it had violated certain conditions of its MoU with the government during its aid operations in Arakan State. The decision followed an announcement by MSF in January that it had treated 22 Rohingya injured in a reported raid by government forces that killed some 40 Muslim villagers—an allegation that the government has strongly denied.

MSF was later allowed to resume operations in Rangoon, Shan and Kachin states.

In late July, state media first announced that the government intended to allow MSF to restart aid operations in Arakan State. An official from the President’s Office reportedly told the Arakanese Buddhist leaders that the government had chosen to do so because of international pressure.

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

MSF was the main provider of medical services to the stateless Rohingya Muslims in northern Arakan. The minority numbers around 1 million people, some 140,000 of who have been displaced by violence and live in squalid, crowded camps. The Rohingya are denied full access to basic government services such as health care and education, while also suffering from a range of restrictions such as limits on their freedom of movement.

The government’s suspension of MSF operations drew widespread condemnation from the international community, further deepening international criticism of its treatment of the Rohingya, which the government insists are mostly “Bengalis” who immigrated illegally from neighboring Bangladesh.

MSF and other international aid groups are unpopular with the Arakanese Buddhist population, who views them as biased for helping the Rohingya. Malteser International, the second biggest medical aid provider to the Muslim minority, was suspended in March after Arakanese mobs attacked the group’s office.

The suspension of all international medical aid to the Rohingya left the group extremely vulnerable and numerous media reports have appeared in recent months documenting how men, women and children have since died from preventable diseases.