Muslim Rohingyas living in shelters in Burma’s western Arakan State have said they are facing a severe lack of nutrition as a result of aid workers evacuating the region following attacks on their homes and offices in March.
A Rohingya woman called Sarshidar said her husband was killed during a riot in 2012 and she used to receive help from international aid agencies and private donors. However, now, she and her children are forced to have only one meal per day.
She said that her children have been the most affected as they have growth and health problems.
“My children have been facing food problems for three months. We have no food support or medicine – nothing. The donors have all gone,” she said.
Hundreds of international aid workers have been evacuated from Sittwe, the capital of Arakan State, after their offices and warehouses were attacked on 27 March.
“When we’ve got food aid, we have money. We can help each other when someone has health or nutrition problems. Now, no one has money here and there are no NGOs to help,” said Mohamad Ali, a displaced resident.
Aid organisation Plan said at the beginning of 2014 that there were “high rates of chronic malnutrition in the camps” and “children are at particular risk.” Plan has called for measures to be put in place to ensure their protection and well-being.
However, Win Myaing, the deputy director of the Arakan State Ministry of Information, said he was unconvinced that the families were really suffering from a food and aid shortage.
“There is a [Rohingya] group who have refused medical treatment from both the government and AZG [MSF-Netherlands]. They are pretending that the government is neglecting them,” he said.
Win Myaing added that he believes Muslim refugees intend to put pressure on the Burmese government through international media.
Meanwhile, INGOs targeted in the March mob violence are facing difficulties in resuming humanitarian operations in western Burma amid security concerns and a lack of available accommodation, according to the UN’s national information officer for Burma, Aye Win.
“The [Burmese government] has pledged to find the INGOs suitable locations but this may also be difficult as most landlords in the area are reluctant to rent their venues following the incident last month,” Aye Win said.
“Amid these issues and due to extensive damage to their offices in the violence, it might take them a while to resume normal operations.”
The Burmese government has set up an Emergency Coordination Centre (ECC) with union-level government officials including the Border Affairs Minister, representatives from UN, INGOs and the local Arakanese public.
In a meeting on Wednesday, Than Tun, a Buddhist community leader in Sittwe and member of the ECC said the UN and INGOs would only be allowed to resume work if they provided the ECC with detailed accounts of their operations.
“Regarding the UN and INGOs bid to resume operations in the area, the ECC decided they will not be allowed to resume operations unless they can provide specific details on their procedures; inform us where they will operate and the amount of aid materials they intend to provide to certain communities,” he said.
“MSF [Médecins Sans Frontières] and Malteser International have not yet resumed operations in the area and we would like to say they will not be able to.”
Malteser International was at the centre of the attack in March, when a staff member removed a Buddhist flag from the Malteser warehouse, enraging a crowd that had formed.
Win Myint, spokesperson for the Arakan State Government, said only UN agencies would be allowed to resume work in the region, MSF and Malteser International would not be permitted back.
“The people of Arakan approve the reopening of offices by the UNHCR and other organisations but they do not want MSF and Malteser back here – this has already been made clear,” said Win Myint.
However, according to Aung Myat Kyaw, Rakhine Nationalities Development Party member and lawmaker in the Arakan State Parliament, a plan is underway to accommodate UN and INGO offices altogether in one compound in Sittwe.