The United Nations refugee agency has called for an immediate return to calm in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where ongoing inter-communal violence has uprooted more than 35,000 people.
The Myanmar authorities have granted permission for humanitarian teams to assess the situation and needs in areas affected by unrest that started nearly two weeks ago, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which noted that food and shelter are urgently needed for the displaced.
In the last two days, UNHCR staff members have conducted inter-agency visits to several villages in the Myebon, Mrauk-U and Minbya townships, to the east and north-east of Rakhine’s state capital, Sittwe.
“The police and army were present in all the villages visited. Our staff spoke to displaced people who shared their fears of being attacked again if the troops leave,” UNHCR’s spokesperson, Adrian Edwards, told a news briefing in Geneva.
Medical staff in the assessment teams were able to treat many of the wounded during the visits, including people suffering from burns, gunshot and arrow injuries, he added. There were also a number of new mothers – 14 in two villages – who said their labour had been induced by the violence.
A few families said children had been left behind when they fled. Among the children who made it to safety – many were malnourished, Mr. Edwards noted.
“Most of the displaced people UNHCR staff met said they needed food and shelter material,” he said. “Aid agencies including UNHCR have sent food and plastic sheets but there are still many needs to be met.”
As part of the inter-agency response to the situation in Rakhine state, UNHCR is sending additional plastic sheets, mosquito nets and blankets to areas, including Myebon, Kyauk Taw, Rathedaung and Pauk Taw. Mr. Edwards emphasized that all assistance is being provided on an impartial basis regardless of background or ethnic origin.
The latest wave of unrest brings to 110,000 the total number of people displaced by inter-communal violence in Rakhine state since June this year.