Community leaders have quelled protestors attempting to block the relocation of displaced Rohingya as the government and NGOs evacuate people from temporary shelters in Arakan state before Cyclone Mahasen is projected to reach land on early Friday morning.
According to a local elder in Arakan state’s Myebon township near Sittwe, a plan to relocate approximately 4,000 displaced Rohingya to higher ground near government buildings was temporarily suspended after demonstrators protested the move.
The Rakhine [Arakan] Women’s Network reportedly led the protest on the grounds that having the two communities close to one another would create problems, according to a source interviewed by DVB.
“It was reported to me that a small crowd and community leaders were able to appease them,” said James Munn from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
“We have teams in the area and no incidences [of further disruption] have been reported.”
The government has relocated more than 19,000 people in Arakan state in preparation for the cyclone.
During a press conference in Rangoon today, government spokesperson Ye Htut said individuals who fail to follow evacuation procedures or disturb government efforts to relocate people before the storm hits would be met with legal actions.
According to the spokesperson, some communities have been hesitant to evacuate and fear they may not be safe in their new location.
UN officials are reportedly working to appease the concerns of those who do not want to relocate.
“In some places where we’ve had reticence by [Rohingya] people to move, we’ve had international aid workers tell them that they will spend the entire duration of the storm with them,” said Munn.
UN officials said the participation of community leaders would be vital to ensuring the successful evacuation of temporary shelters in the state.
“We need community leaders to also convince those communities so they are comfortable with the plans,” said UN Resident Coordinator in Burma Ashok Nigam.
“So communication and voluntariness of relocation is important to try and explain to people why they need to move.”
In Maungdaw, some Rohingya families have been moved further inland; however, food is already running low.
“It won’t last for long,” said one Rohingya man in a shelter in Maungdaw in northern Arakan state.
“We’ve just enough for a couple days.”
Following two bouts of ethno-religious rioting in Arakan state last year, more than 140,000 people remain housed in temporary camps throughout the coastal state in western Burma.
Human rights groups have been warning government officials for months that the inadequate facilities needed to be improved before the onset of the monsoon season.
According to a statement published by Human Rights Watch this week, at least 69,000 people live in “shelter insufficient to withstand the rainy season – much less typhoon strength winds – and are located in low-lying areas at severe risk of flooding and storm surges.”
The category-one cyclone is set to hit the Bangladeshi coast near Chittagong on early Friday morning.
-Aye Nai and Hanna Hindstrom contributed reporting.