As attention increasingly focuses on the tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims amassing at already overcrowded refugee camps in Bangladesh, thousands have also been displaced within Arakan State and more than 300 teachers in the conflict zone are “stranded” and in need of air-lifted evacuation.
The latest tally provided by the government’s Information Committee put the total number of “ethnic” internally displaced persons (IDPs) across Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships at 26,747. “Ethnic” is understood to mean non-Muslim residents of the state.
The IDPs are scattered across eight townships in Arakan State, but heavily concentrated in Buthidaung and Maungdaw, according to government data. They have fled attacks by Muslim militants identifying as members of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) that began on 25 August, and a military counter-offensive that has followed in the days since.
Meanwhile, Sein Tun Hla, deputy director of the Arakan State Education Administrator’s Office, said more than 300 schoolteachers were pinned down by the latest violence to wrack northern Arakan State, unable to make overland journeys to safer locations.
“Currently, we are planning to rescue those schoolteachers with the use of Tatmadaw helicopters. It was initially planned to evacuate those schoolteachers using road transportation, however, terrorists planted mines on the roads and the roads are not accessible now,” he said.
Among those already air-lifted from the conflict zone was Sharashati, a Hindu woman who runs a barbershop in Khamaungseik village, Maungdaw Township, and her husband.
She is currently staying at the home of another Hindu family in Buthidaung town, and spoke of scores of people being abducted by ARSA militants over a period from 25-27 August, across three villages in northern Arakan State.
Nihal, a local aid worker, said some food provisions had been supplied by private donors, a Buthidaung emergency relief committee and the Red Cross. However, “We still need more food assistance,” Nihal added.
People continued to seek shelter at nine temporary relief camps in Buthidaung on Tuesday.
State media on Wednesday provided a detailed list of humanitarian aid supplies delivered to affected populations from 25 August through 4 September. It included nearly 3,000 sacks of rice, 115,830 packs of noodles, dozens of bags of salt, litres of oil, medical kits, blankets and toiletries.
Information Committee data indicated that more than 6,800 houses had been burned down by “ARSA extremist terrorists,” the vast majority of them belonging to the state’s “Bengali” population. ARSA militants and the government have traded accusations over who is responsible for the razing of buildings in Arakan State, with both sides blaming the other for large-scale scale burnings that have been corroborated by satellite imagery in recent days.
The displacement figures provided in Wednesday’s state-run Global New Light of Myanmar did not include the number of Rohingya estimated to have fled to Bangladesh since 25 August, a tally that UN aid workers in the neighbouring country put at nearly 150,000 as of Wednesday afternoon, according to Reuters.