Rohingya Camps in ‘Appalling Conditions,’ UN Official Says

By The Irrawaddy 18 June 2014

RANGOON — A senior UN aid official says Rohingya Muslims are living in “appalling conditions” at relief camps in Arakan State, two years after sectarian violence left more than 120,000 people homeless.

Kyung-Wha Kang, the UN deputy emergency relief coordinator, visited the western Burmese state last week to investigate ongoing humanitarian challenges there.

“I witnessed a level of human suffering in IDP camps that I have personally never seen before, with men, women, and children living in appalling conditions with severe restrictions on their freedom of movement, both in camps and isolated villages. Many people have wholly inadequate access to basic services including health, education, water and sanitation,” she told reporters in New York on Tuesday.

She called on the Burmese government to bring to justice the perpetrators who attacked aid organizations earlier this year, disrupting vital health and humanitarian services.

“Humanitarian workers in Rakhine [Arakan] are carrying out their work under extremely difficult circumstances and I was humbled by their commitment to stay and deliver. However, unless the Myanmar [Burmese] authorities ensure that the perpetrators of the attacks on UN and NGO premises in late March are brought to justice, the safety and security of our staff will continue to be at risk,” she said.

Aung Win, a Muslim rights activist in the Arakan State capital Sittwe, said Kang met with community leaders in the city’s Aung Mingalar Quarter, where more than 5,000 Muslims are confined by security forces.

“She said she was very concerned about our situation because she could see we are living in crowded conditions,” he told The Irrawaddy.

Kang also visited Kachin State on the third anniversary of renewed fighting between government troops and an ethnic Kachin armed group. More than 100,000 civilians have also been displaced in this conflict since 2011, and many are staying at shelters in rebel-held areas, where access to international humanitarian aid is limited.

“I was only able to visit an IDP camp in the government-controlled area, but I met local NGO staff who are central to humanitarian work in areas held by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA),” Kang said. “Access by international humanitarian organizations is improving through cross-line missions but aid agencies need regular, predictable, and sustained access to all IDPs.”

In Naypyidaw, Kang met with the vice president, the minister of foreign affairs, the deputy minister of border affairs and the minister of social welfare, relief and resettlement.

“I reiterated the UN’s commitment to support the government’s efforts to meet humanitarian needs and reminded them of their responsibility to bring the perpetrators of the March attacks to justice,” she said.