Rakhine State IDPs Exceed 36,000 Since August: Myanmar NGO

By Khaing Yoe Hla 5 October 2020

Sittwe, Rakhine State — More than 36,000 people have been displaced by fighting since August in Rakhine State, which has seen the second-largest number of COVID-19 cases after Yangon Region, according to the Rakhine Ethnic Congress (REC).

“They fled because their villages were set ablaze, civilians were killed or injured in shelling along the Kaladan River and [because the military] raided villages. This is why the number of displaced people has increased,” said U Zaw Zaw Tun, adding that Kyauktaw, Rathedaung and Buthidaung townships have been the worst affected.

According to the REC, there were 190,700 internally displaced people (IDPs) in Rakhine in July. The second wave of COVID-19 broke out in the second week of August in Rakhine, and since then over 36,000 more civilians were displaced by fresh clashes between Myanmar’s military and the Arakan Army (AA), with the number reaching 226,804 in late September.

U Zaw Tun asked the military to stop fighting and to consider residents who are struggling to make ends meet due to the pandemic.

The government issued stay-at-home orders across Rakhine State in response to a spike in COVID-19 cases but ongoing fighting is forcing people from their homes on a daily basis, according to the REC.

On Sept. 17, a civilian was killed and two were injured when an artillery shell landed in Shwe Laung Tin village in Rathedaung Township. Following the incident, villagers fled from their homes to Sittwe and other townships.

“We do want to stay at home but we can’t. Though we are afraid of coronavirus, we are also afraid that artillery shells might fall,” said Shwe Laung Tin villager Daw Khin Khin Than, who is taking shelter at a monastery in Sittwe.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 travel restrictions have made it difficult for humanitarian and civil society organizations to provide IDP relief supplies.

With as many as 1,000 people in a camp, IDPs are facing high risks of coronavirus infection.

Lower House lawmaker U Oo Tun Win of Kyauktaw Township said: “People are advised to stay at home, to wear masks if they go out and keep six feet apart. But in some IDP camps, where entire villages are taking shelter, it is difficult for IDPs to follow those measures.”

He urged both sides to stop fighting during the COVID-19 outbreak. “While people are in trouble, I want all sides to show sympathy for the people. They should give priority to the people during the COVID-19 outbreak,” he added.

The military and AA have been fighting in northern Rakhine since November 2018. The fighting has been the heaviest in terms of civilian deaths, injuries and property damage since 2010 when democracy began to be introduced in Myanmar.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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