As monsoon season approaches, thousands of families urgently require shelter in Maungdaw Township and the surrounding areas of northwestern Arakan State, according to the United Nations.
“There is a pressing need to find shelter solutions for those whose homes were destroyed, damaged or dismantled in the context of the security operation in northern Rakhine [Arakan] State,” said Andrew Dusek, the associate communications officer at the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, speaking to DVB on Wednesday. “Many returnees are currently staying in makeshift shelters, which provide little protection from the weather. With the arrival of the rainy season, which has already caused significant damage to existing shelters in many parts of Rakhine, it is extremely urgent that people have a protective and dignified roof over their heads and are able to resume livelihood activities.”
Most of the families are returning from Bangladesh and rural areas in northern Arakan, having fled their homes several months ago during an intense military crackdown in the region as the army attempted to root out Rohingya militants suspected of killing nine Burmese border guards on 9 October last year.
“Seven months after the October 2016 attacks on border guard posts in northern Rakhine and the subsequent security operations that led to mass displacement, significant humanitarian needs remain, with persistent concerns over protection, movement restrictions, shelter, food security and livelihoods for thousands of affected people,” the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a report covering February to May 2017.
The UN estimates that more than 74,000 people, mostly Rohingya Muslims, fled across the border to Bangladesh to escape the crackdown and subsequent communal violence.
It said that since the Burmese government called a halt to security operations in February, most of the 20,000 internally displaced Muslims are believed to have returned to their villages or to the vicinity of their villages. However, many are currently living in makeshift accommodations as a “large number of homes [were] burnt, damaged or dismantled during the security operations.”
Burma’s State Counsellor and de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has rejected a UN request to investigate allegations of crimes by Burmese security forces against the Rohingya Muslims during the security operations.
Asked about safety and security for the returnees, Chris Lewa of the Rohingya-focused Arakan Project told DVB on Thursday: “Generally speaking, a few thousand have decided to return and they have done this safely in the past two or three months.”
Lewa noted that Burmese border guards have allowed returnees back into the country and that many also received some assistance.
“However, we heard about a couple of incidents when a couple of returnees were allegedly arrested, but the reasons are unknown,” she added.
OCHA noted that the government is developing a plan to establish 13 “model villages” for 1,152 households whose homes were destroyed. However, IDPs have already expressed concerns that the plots being allocated are smaller than their previous homes and that they worry about their future livelihoods in these new villages.
The UN agency also noted that the government has begun “initial steps” toward the closure of three IDP camps in central Arakan State, the first phase in a five-year timeframe to rehabilitate all 120,000 IDPs in Arakan, the vast majority of whom were displaced by inter-communal violence in 2012.