Bangladesh urged by UN to ensure NGO access for people fleeing Rakhine state

NGOs provide essential services to unregistered people coming to Bangladesh from Myanmar’s Rakhine state, such as this mother who had been unable to feed her baby properly. Photo: UNHCR /S. Kritsanavarin

7 August 2012 – The United Nations refugee agency today urged Bangladeshi authorities to ensure that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can continue to provide assistance to unregistered people who have fled the violence in neighbouring Myanmar’s Rakhine state, after reports emerged of Government authorities banning them from carrying out their activities.

“Last Thursday, three non-governmental organizations – Médecins Sans Frontières, Action Contre La Faim and Muslim Aid UK – were ordered by the Bangladeshi authorities to stop their activities in and around unofficial camps near Cox’s Bazar in the southeast,” the spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Adrian Edwards, told reporters in Geneva.

“If the order is implemented, it will have a serious humanitarian impact on some 40,000 unregistered people who had fled Myanmar in recent years and settled in the Leda and Kutupalong makeshift sites,” he added, noting that locals nearby will also be affected as they have also been benefitted from basic services provided by the NGOs.

In June, serious disturbances in Rakhine state, located in western Myanmar, led to the country’s Government declaring a state of emergency there. According to reports, the violence between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims left at least a dozen civilians dead and hundreds of homes destroyed, while affecting some 80,000 people, many of whom fled to Bangladesh.

In addition to the unregistered population, UNHCR said there are some 30,000 registered people living in two official camps in the Bangladeshi town of Cox’s Bazar.

“UNHCR is urging the Government of Bangladesh to reconsider its decision in line with its long tradition of hospitality towards people who have fled Myanmar over the years,” Mr. Edwards said. He added that the refugee agency will continue to watch developments closely following reports of renewed violence over the weekend.

“UNHCR has received unverified accounts of some villages being burnt in the Kyauk Taw township north of the state capital, Sittwe. Many of the young men have reportedly fled, leaving mainly women and children behind,” the spokesperson noted.

So far, the agency has distributed emergency aid – such as plastic sheets, blankets, sleeping mats, mosquito nets and kitchen sets – to more than 40,000 people. Other UN agencies, such as the World Food Programme (WFP), are also reaching out to affected people by providing food relief.

WFP reported that since the beginning of the crisis in June, it has provided a total of 2,109 metric tons of food, with food given to more than 102,000 people in June and close to 78,000 people in July. The agency, however, has expressed concern over high malnutrition rates among the displaced population.


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