Sometimes we just want to die. We can’t move. We can’t leave. We can’t fish. We just want to fish.
Nearly a year since deadly inter-ethnic clashes in Rakhine state first broke out, conditions in displaced persons camps, combined with movement restrictions and ongoing segregation of Rakhine and Muslim communities, are severely impacting access to healthcare, said Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today. An estimated 140,000 people are still living in makeshift camps. According to official estimates, the vast majority of the displaced are from a Muslim minority referred to as the Rohingya. The Rohingya are a stateless minority group, not recognized as citizens by the government of Myanmar.
As well as the displaced, tens of thousands of people still in their homes have been almost entirely cut off from health facilities, food, markets, their fields, and in some cases even clean water.
“MSF has just returned from areas where whole villages are cut off from basic services,” said Ronald Kremer, MSF emergency coordinator in Rakhine state. “We have seen that movement restrictions are having a detrimental impact on people’s health. This includes TB patients unable to access the treatment they need to stay alive, and pregnant women dying because they have nowhere safe to deliver.”
Movement restrictions were imposed on Muslims in the townships around Sittwe in June 2012, following the first clashes, and intensified after the October violence which saw thousands more people displaced. “We are only able to get to our farms very occasionally, and then only two or three of us at a time, and with military escorts. We can not go to the hospital, to school, to fish, to collect firewood,” said one man from Myebon township. In other areas, people are simply too scared to move.
“In one village, people told MSF that for months when people tried to move they would get beaten up, and that after this happened 14 times they simply stopped leaving their village,” continued Kremer. “They told us that at least three people died because they could not reach the hospital.
“This fear is so pervasive that even when people were living in the path of Tropical Storm Mahasen, many told us they were too scared to move. They did not know where they would be moved to, or what would happen to them.”
MSF calls on the Myanmar government to ensure that displaced people, and those cut off from services, have proper shelter and access to healthcare. People must also be able to move freely, without fear of attack. MSF stresses that displaced people are particularly vulnerable as the monsoon season starts. Fortunately, Tropical Storm Mahasen in mid-May was not as devastating as had been feared. But the risk of further tropical storms or cyclones remains high. MSF has already seen makeshift shelters and its clinic structures destroyed by relatively light rains.
MSF in Myanmar
MSF has worked in Myanmar since 1992, providing medical care to millions of people from a range of ethnic groups. Across Myanmar, MSF delivers lifesaving anti-retroviral treatment for HIV/AIDS to more than 28,000 people. MSF was amongst the first responders to cyclones Nargis and Giri, providing medical assistance, survival items, and clean water for tens of thousands of people. MSF has worked for the past 20 years in Rakhine State, offering primary and reproductive health care as well as HIV/AIDS and TB treatment. Prior to June 2012, MSF conducted about 500,000 medical consultations each year. Since 2005, MSF has treated more than 1.2 million people for malaria, from all ethnic groups in Rakhine State.