- Testimonies from the IRC’s own Rohingya health workers paint harrowing picture of conditions in unaccessible Rakhine
- The IRC calls out humanitarian conditions – demands accountability and immediate access
- Tens of thousands still stuck without assistance in Rakhine state; 200,000 awaited in Cox’s Bazar as 1 million mark nears
New York, NY, November 15, 2017 — As Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meets with Myanmar’s leaders, the IRC is calling out the appalling conditions that persist, and merit immediate international attention, inside Rakhine state. Since conflict erupted between Rohingya militants and the Burmese military on August 25th of this year, more than 800,000 Rohingya refugees have fled violence and persecution, leading to the world’s fastest growing humanitarian crisis — comparable only to the exodus of the Rwanda crisis in 1994. The IRC, working on both sides of the border, anticipates 200,000 more will undertake the journey in the coming weeks – bringing the total number of refugees in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district to over 1 million.
Prior to the August 25th attacks, the IRC was working directly in 190 sites including 14 camps in central and northern Rakhine, benefitting both Rakhine and Muslim communities. The IRC is now able to gradually resume critical health and protection programmes in both Muslim camps and Rakhine villages, but humanitarian access remains restricted for humanitarian groups and tens of thousands remain out of reach of life-saving aid, especially in northern Rakhine state. The conditions in which the Rohingya arrive in Cox’s Bazar are a testament to what they face, and what they flee, in Rakhine:overwhelming primary health needs, emergency rates of malnutrition, and some of the highest rates of trauma from sexual violence the IRC has ever seen.
While in Myanmar, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson should signal the end of impunity by negotiating full and unimpeded access for humanitarian agencies to reach thousands in continuing need in Rakhine state as well as immediate access for independent human rights investigators to monitor the crisis.
As Rakhine remains off limits for the humanitarian community writ large, the IRC spoke to four of its Rohingya Community Health Workers who remain inside Rakhine’s camps. The IRC has taken steps to protect their identities due to the intimidation and surveillance they currently face. Their testimonies are a harrowing insight into the difficulties and humanitarian conditions faced by tens of thousands of Rohingya.
Pseudonym: Thiri Hla Ming*
Female, 35 years old, Rohingya
IDP camp in Sittwe, Rakhine State
“When humanitarian agencies are able to come here, we are ok, and can survive off what they give us. But after August 25, nobody was coming in, and health emergencies began arising. I had six women in my area in the camp who needed to give birth during one week alone. Two of these were complicated pregnancies. Because we were cut off from help and could not call an ambulance or go to a hospital, one baby was a stillbirth, and the other survived only a few minutes before dying in front of us.
Still now, in case of emergency situations, we can’t go out to of the camp for patients. If we go out, we have to pay from 20,000 Kyat to 100,000 Kyat to the soldiers at checkpoints. They told us if we cannot pay we let our patients die. There were two cases so urgent that we paid the bribe to go to the nearest hospital.
I want the freedom to move - to leave the camp. We all want to go back to our villages. Children have no access to education. As you know, we have to live here with many other people - seven or eight in one small hut. The weather is hot and the huts are crowded. According to our religion, we can’t share space between men and women even if we are siblings. Now we have to, and as a woman, I don’t want it.”
Khin Hla Hlaing*
32 Years old, Rohingya
IDP camp in Sittwe, Rakhine State
“I have lived in the camp since 2014. But our lives in the camps changed due to the conflict that started on 25 August. We had no assistance from any outside organization for a month. People couldn’t go out, because they feared an attack. The government expanded checkpoints everywhere. They not only asked questions, but also sometimes beat people. People are scared. We are living in fear more than before.
Everyone in the camps, including myself, had no income in September. We did not have enough food. For the whole month of September there was no food assistance or medical supplies, so people had to share their food or borrow from others, and skip meals as well. Although we now receive supplies from some organizations, we don’t have enough support like before. We have so many concerns: food, education, clean water, and other things. People are poor here and have no access to basic needs.”
Moe Moe Win*
30 years old, Rohingya
IDP camp in Sittwe, Rakhine state
“Since August 25, for weeks, we had no food supplies, no medical doctors and no nurses. People do not have any cash to access food and medical supplies. They all missed one month of supplies and had lots of difficulties. People were skipping meals or borrowing. Now, since we can’t work, we have to rely on organizations to bring food.
For the children, they have no access to education and no nutritious food. People are poor. Women feel worried for their security and that of their daughters. They want them to get married early in age, so that someone can take care of them - and avoid them being harassed or raped by people inside or outside the camp. We are all scared of being driven away like the others in the north. We feel sorry for our relatives. We also feel fear more than before because of this news.”
Pseudonym: Zaw Naing*
35 years old, Rohingya
Village in Rathedaung, N Rakhine
“From August 25, for two months, no agencies could come in to help. We were starving. We used to get food from WFP, so we survived off the extra food we had saved from past distributions, trading amongst ourselves and doing whatever we could. The one small shop in town that carried medicine was out of stock. I was afraid many of us would die. We supported each other as much as we could.
We contacted agencies like WFP and ICRC to say that we had a food shortage. They only replied that they didn’t have permission to visit us. They said they were trying their best. People were eating rice with salt and oil - and if we used to cook four cups we cut down to two per family waiting for agencies to come help.
We heard that there are problems in Northern Rakhine State and people are fleeing. Now we have heard that Bangladesh and Myanmar are discussing sending back the Rohingya. I’m not sure whether it is truth or not. We are afraid to go out when there is this news. People in my village are asking, what will become our future? What will happen next? Will the situation be like the same as now? Or will it change? What will happen next to us? We all concerned about it.”
Nazanin Ash, Vice President of Policy and Advocacy for the IRC, remarked: “The Rohingya have suffered for far too long, both from the cruelty of Myanmar’s government and the silent complicity of global actors. Now, the international community, starting with Secretary Tillerson’s visit, has an opportunity to right this wrong, not only by responding to the urgent humanitarian needs of Rohingya refugees but also by addressing the root causes of their brutal repression. Doing so will not only save and change the lives of a million Rohingya, but may be the only opportunity to make real the promise of a prosperous, inclusive democracy in Myanmar.”
In Myanmar, as the humanitarian community continues to face impediments to humanitarian access, the IRC is scaling up and resuming critical services. The response requires $12 million over the next 12 months to meet these immediate needs and ensure dignified humanitarian conditions in both Rakhine and Cox’s Bazar. Previously one of the largest health providers in Rakhine state, the IRC reached 130,000 people in 2016 alone.
The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 28 offices across the U.S. helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.