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Born into Conflict

Vincenzo Floramo The Irrawaddy

SITTWE, Arakan State — On June 8, 2012, violence broke out between Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Maungdaw Township in western Burma’s Arakan State. The unrest quickly spread to the state capital Sittwe and several other townships. Eventually, some 140,000 people, mostly Muslims, were forced to flee the violence.

One year on, the displaced Rohingyas still languish in crowded, dirty camps in the countryside, where there are only a few health clinics to serve tens of thousands of people. Government security forces have limited international aid and health services for the displaced Muslim families, who are also banned from travelling. Inter-communal tensions remain high.

Many Rohingya women now find themselves raising young children in these difficult camp conditions. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said in a statement this week that “Many of the displaced children have been out of school for a year.” Some of the Rohingya women have given birth in these extreme circumstances, sometimes delivering a child in the camps’ rickety bamboo huts.

Shar Sit Tar Pikhone, 25, is one of them. In mid-May, she was among a group of several hundred Muslims who had gathered at a school building in Thet Kal Pyin village, near Sittwe, to seek shelter from a storm. “I’m so troubled about her health,” she said, clutching her 3-month baby girl, named Kisman Kala. “I feel so bad; I never have enough food for my family.”

(Additional reporting by Paul Vrieze)