New Myanmar unrest panics Rohingya in border limbo

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar since a military crackdown started in 2017. (File/AFP)
Updated 09 January 2019
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New Myanmar unrest panics Rohingya in border limbo

  • "Heavy fighting is going on between the government troops and Arakan Army inside Myanmar," Rohingya leader Dil Mohammad said
  • Refugee community leader Nur Alam said gunfire could frequently be heard after dark on the other side of the border

BANDARBAN, Bangladesh: Panic is gripping thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees living in no-man's land on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border, with daily clashes between Myanmar security forces and ethnic Rakhine insurgents.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar since a military crackdown started in 2017 -- most to sprawling refugee camps in Bangladesh -- but many have been living in limbo on the border, unwilling to enter the camps or return home.
They are now caught on the sidelines of fighting between Myanmar troops and the Arakan Army, a militant group seeking more autonomy for western Rakhine state's Buddhist-majority population.
"Heavy fighting is going on between the government troops and Arakan Army inside Myanmar," Rohingya leader Dil Mohammad told AFP.
"The situation is very tense," he said, adding the security build-up and daily gunfire had created "panic".
Myanmar troops last week set up security camps and bunkers along the border after fighting saw 13 police killed.
Some of the fortifications are directly adjacent to a border fence running alongside a stream, and overlook shacks erected by an estimated 4,500 displaced Muslims living in the narrow strip of land.
Refugee community leader Nur Alam said gunfire could frequently be heard after dark on the other side of the border.
"Every night it is close by. The Myanmar border guard have set up 10 new posts near our camp. It's very intimidating," he told AFP.
In a statement issued Wednesday, the United Nations said it was "deeply concerned" about the situation in the area.
A Bangladesh official said they were aware of the border tensions.
"We will talk to the relevant authorities to discuss what to do," local administrator Kamal Hossain said.
Rohingya in Buddhist-majority Myanmar have suffered decades of persecution. Impoverished western Rakhine state in particular is scarred by deep ethnic and religious hatred.
Refugees pouring into Bangladesh have detailed mass killings, arson and rape at the hands of Myanmar troops and Buddhist mobs.
Myanmar has denied any wrongdoing, saying it was defending itself against Rohingya militants who attacked police posts.
The United Nations has called for a genocide investigation into the crackdown.


UN gives Myanmar aid cut warning over Rohingya camp closures

Updated 18 June 2019
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UN gives Myanmar aid cut warning over Rohingya camp closures

  • Myanmar has closed several camps holding around 9,000 Rohingya
  • They have not been allowed to return to their former homes and remain dependent on handouts

YANGON: The UN has warned it will pare back aid to thousands of Rohingya Muslims left destitute as Myanmar’s government closes camps in Rakhine state, over fears its continued support “risks entrenching segregation.”
Aid agencies are facing an increasingly sharp dilemma in the region as they balance relief for desperate communities with leverage over the government.
The majority of Myanmar’s Rohingya were driven into Bangladesh by a 2017 army crackdown, but around 400,000 remain inside conflict-battered Rakhine.
Those include nearly 130,000 held since 2012 in squalid camps, currently supported by UN agencies and humanitarian groups.
As part of its strategy to address the crisis, Myanmar has closed several camps holding around 9,000 Rohingya.
But they have not been allowed to return to their former homes and remain dependent on handouts. Instead, they are being settled in new accommodation close to the former camps.
That has sparked fears aid agencies are effectively being used to prop-up a policy that fails to address the fundamental needs of the Rohingya, including housing, work, food and security.
The camp closure plan “risks entrenching segregation,” UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar Knut Ostby wrote to the government in a leaked letter, dated 6 June and seen by AFP.
The letter, also written on behalf of aid groups, warned support “beyond life-saving assistance” at the closed sites would in future be linked to “tangible” progress made on “the fundamental issue of freedom of movement.”
“Life-saving” support includes food, health and water, but site planning, shelter construction and education facilities could be phased out, aid agency sources told AFP.
The UN has faced criticism for a slow response to violence against the Rohingya, which escalated after 2012 riots between Muslim Rohingyas and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists.
A UN report released Monday admitted “systemic failures” in its handling of the build-up to the Rohingya crisis.
Limited access to Rakhine’s camps makes independent reporting on conditions difficult.
But AFP has reviewed recent interviews conducted in five camps by an NGO requesting anonymity to protect its work.
“If I build a house, it can be seized arbitrarily,” one Rohingya man said.
“I have no right to the land and I can also be arrested at any time.”
An aid worker called the remaining 23 sites in Rakhine little more than “concentration camps.”
On condition of anonymity, she spoke of the “complicity” humanitarian staff feel for perpetuating the segregation.
Amnesty International has described Rakhine as an “apartheid state.”
All aid must be “heavily conditioned,” researcher Laura Haigh said, warning donors that building infrastructure could make them complicit in crimes against humanity.
The government defended the camp closures, telling AFP it would continue working with the UN and NGOs on the issue.
Any former camp resident holding a National Verification Card (NVC) will be able to “move freely within their township” and access “education, health facilities and livelihood activities,” the social welfare ministry said.
Most Rohingya refuse to apply for the card believing they should already be treated as full citizens.
Those interviewed said the few to have caved had no more rights than anyone else.
They were also forced to designate themselves as “Bengali,” a term implying they are from Bangladesh.
“They are just trying to dominate us and make us illegal through different ways,” one Rohingya man said.