Aid group forced out of Myanmar state

2014-02-28 17:17
A Rohingya refugee. (File, AP)

A Rohingya refugee. (File, AP)

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Yangon - Doctors Without Borders is being forced to stop caring for sick people in a Myanmar state torn by sectarian violence, in a move linked to the humanitarian group's work with the long-persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority, reports said on Friday.

Myanmar's presidential spokesperson Ye Htut told the Myanmar Freedom newspaper that the group's contract in Rakhine state would not be extended because they hired "Bengalis", the term the government uses for Rohingya, and lacked transparency in its work.

He criticised the group over its handling of patients following an attack in the remote northern part of the state last month. The government has vehemently denied allegations that a Buddhist mob rampaged through a village, killing women and children.

Doctors Without Borders said it treated 22 injured and traumatised Rohingya. The United Nations says more than 40 Rohingya were killed, but the government says only one Buddhist policeman died.

Ethnic tensions

Ye Htut told 7 Day newspaper that the group's "presence has more negative impact than benefit" and that its contract was not renewed because the group's work "could heighten tension and jeopardise peace and tranquility in the region".

Attempts to reach Ye Htut for comment on Friday were unsuccessful. The international aid organisation, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999 and is also known by the French initials MSF, had no immediate comment.

Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist nation of 60 million, only recently emerged from a half-century of military rule.

Since then, ethnic tensions have swept Rakhine state, raising concerns from the United States and others that the bloodshed could undermine democratic reforms. Up to 280 people have been killed and tens of thousands more have fled their homes, most of them Rohingya.

Since the violence erupted in June 2012, Doctors Without Borders has worked in 15 camps for the displaced people in Rakhine state.

For many of the sickest patients, the organisation offers the best and sometimes only care, because travelling outside the camps for treatment in local Buddhist-run hospitals can be dangerous and expensive.

Activities severely hampered

The aid group has worked to help smooth the referral process for emergency transport from some camps.

Due to increasing threats and intimidation from a group of Rakhine Buddhists who have been holding near daily protests against Doctors Without Borders, the organisation has said its activities have been severely hampered and that it has not received enough government support.

The group has been present for nearly 20 years in Rakhine state, assisting with everything from child and maternal health to HIV, tuberculosis and malaria among all ethnic groups, including Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims.

Nationwide, it has long filled a gap in Myanmar's neglected and woefully underfunded health sector. It is the main provider of HIV drugs in the country, supplying more than 30 000 patients with life-saving medication that would otherwise be unavailable through the government.

Segregation

It also treats more than 3 000 tuberculosis patients, many of whom are also infected with HIV.

The US on Friday identified the humanitarian and human rights crisis in Rakhine state as one of the most pressing issues facing the country as it tries to implement economic and political reforms.

Authorities have "made no meaningful efforts to help Rohingya and other Muslim minority people displaced by violence to return to their homes and continued to enforce disproportionate restrictions on their movement," the state department said in its annual global reports on human rights.

It said the policy has further entrenched the increasingly permanent segregation of the two communities.

Many of the country's 1.3 million Rohingya - identified by the United Nations as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world - have been living in the country for generations but the government insists they are here illegally. Almost all have been denied citizenship, rendering them stateless.

Systematic and discriminatory policies limit their freedom of movement, access to health care, right to worship and have children.

Read more on:    doctors without borders  |  myanmar

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