Aid groups complain of impeded access in Myanmar crisis

NGOs increasingly concerned about restrictions on humanitarian aid to Rohingya

A woman carries an ill Rohingya refugee child through a camp in Bangladesh. Photograph: Cathal McNaughton/Reuters

A woman carries an ill Rohingya refugee child through a camp in Bangladesh. Photograph: Cathal McNaughton/Reuters

 

International aid groups in Myanmar have urged the government to allow free access to Rakhine State, where an army offensive has sent more than 500,000 people fleeing to Bangladesh but hundreds of thousands remain cut off from food, shelter and medical care.

Refugees are still fleeing Myanmar, more than a month after Rohingya Muslim insurgents attacked security posts near the border, triggering fierce military retaliation that the United Nations has branded ethnic cleansing.

Aid groups said on Thursday the total number of refugees in Bangladesh was now 502,000, while Bangladeshi police said 14 refugees drowned when their boat capsized off the coast in bad weather.

The Myanmarese government has stopped international nongovernment groups and UN agencies from carrying out most of their work in the north of Rakhine State, citing insecurity since the August 25th insurgent attacks.

“International NGOs in Myanmar are increasingly concerned about severe restrictions on humanitarian access and impediments to the delivery of critically needed humanitarian assistance throughout Rakhine State,” aid groups said in a statement.

An unknown number of people are internally displaced, while hundreds of thousands lack food, shelter and medical services, said the groups, including Care International, Oxfam and Save the Children.

“We urge the government and authorities of Myanmar to ensure that all people in need in Rakhine State have full, free and unimpeded access to life-saving humanitarian assistance.”

Difficult relations

The government has put the Myanmar Red Cross in charge of aid to the state, with the help of the International Committee of the Red Cross. But the groups said they feared insufficient aid was getting through. Relations between the government and aid agencies had been difficult for months, with some officials accusing groups of helping the insurgents.

Aid groups dismissed the accusations, which they said had inflamed anger towards them among Buddhists in the communally divided state, and called for an end to “misinformation and unfounded accusations”.

Rights groups have accused the army of trying to push Rohingya Muslims out of Myanmar, and of committing crimes against humanity. They have called for sanctions, in particular an arms embargo. The United States said the army response to the insurgent attacks was “disproportionate” and the crisis raised questions about Myanmar’s transition to democracy after decades of military rule.

Police in Bangladesh said they recovered the bodies of 14 refugees, including nine children, after their boat went down. A photographer said he saw several babies among the victims. Police officer Afrajul Hoque Tutu said three boats had capsized in heavy seas.

– Reuters

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