PRESS RELEASE: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Cyclone Mahasen threatens lives of tens of thousands of displaced Rohingya Muslims in Burma’s Arakan State
Government of Burma must ensure freedom of movement and urgently protect all IDPs in flood plains
(May 13, 2013, Oslo, Norway)—The government of Burma should urgently facilitate the relocation of tens of thousands of at-risk, internally displaced Rohingya to higher ground before the arrival of heavy rains from an approaching cyclone, Partners Relief and Development (Partners) said today. At least 140,000 internally displaced Rohingya Muslims are sheltering in official and makeshift camps in Burma’s Arakan State, many of which are located in flood-prone areas. Cyclone “Mahasen” is expected to reach landfall on Wednesday or Thursday this week, potentially affecting populations in Burma, Bangladesh, and India. The government has not evacuated any displaced Rohingya out of squalid, low-lying displacement camps in areas outside Sittwe.
“These people are bracing themselves for the storm. They expect their area to flood and shelters to be blown flat by high winds,” says Partners CEO, Steve Gumaer, who is currently in affected areas in Arakan State. “They are fighting for their lives against the sea, rain, wind, and a government that has persecuted them for decades.”
For several months, the local and central government have received warnings from the UN agencies, governments, and rights groups about the upcoming monsoon season and the need to evacuate the IDPs to higher ground. The authorities have been warned numerous times about the approaching cyclone and the devastating effect it will have. There is no sign that any measures have been taken to aid the Rohingya IDPs outside Sittwe to higher ground, Partners said. Nearly 20,000 Rohingya IDPs in Pauktaw are particularly at risk, as well as IDPs in Myebon.
“The central government is not absolved of responsibility in this situation. The authorities seem intent on killing these people one way or another,” said Gumaer.
The authorities restrict the Rohingyas’ freedom of movement, which could be fatal if the camps are flooded and natural disaster strikes.
“There has been no action taken to evacuate these people and no indication they will be free to flee if this storm strikes,” Gumaer said. “It is essential the government ensures everyone has freedom of movement in Arakan State.”
Partners said sizable groups of the displaced Rohingya outside Sittwe had not eaten for four days because they are technically “unregistered IDPs.” Only registered IDPs are given food rations by the UN’s World Food Programme, leaving thousands without adequate or steady rations. At least 7,000 Muslims in Aung Mingalar, the last Muslim village in the state capital Sittwe, have also been denied humanitarian aid. Tens of thousands of displaced lack adequate health care, latrines, shelter, clothing, and other necessities.
Numerous educated Rohingya and community leaders have been arrested in areas surrounding Sittwe since April 26, including children. Partners documented systematic torture of Rohingya detainees and denial of due process rights. The systematic abuse, neglect, and failure to protect 140,000 civilians from natural disaster, while denying food rations and other international aid to tens of thousands, is a violation of basic human rights. Partners calls on the Government of Burma to immediately evacuate all at-risk populations, especially Rohingya IDPs from the potential disaster zone; to authorize food rations to all IDPs; and to give international and national aid organizations free access to the areas where thousands are living in subhuman conditions.
Partners Relief & Development (PRAD) is a registered charity in six countries. The work of Partners has provided emergency relief and sustainable development for tens of thousands of displaced people in Burma since 1994. PRAD seeks free, full lives for the children of Burma and reconciled communities living in peace.
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Some 800,000 to one million Muslim Rohingyas live in western Burma, where they are denied basic rights and citizenship, rendering them stateless. They have been described by the UN as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities. Since violence broke out in Arakan State in June 2012 between Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims—aided by state security forces— at least 140,000 Rohingyas have taken refuge in displacement camps after their villages were destroyed. Tens of thousands of others have fled the country by sea, risking death.
The Rohingya have lived under systematic racial discrimination by the authorities for decades. They were forced to flee horrific violence before ending up in makeshift camps by the sea where they lack everything from medical facilities, latrines, shelters, blankets and regular food distribution. Now a tropical cyclone threatens to kill them unless they get immediate help to evacuate.