4 years on, lives of Myanmar's Rohingya still on hold

4 years on, lives of Myanmar's Rohingya still on hold

State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has shied away from coming to their defence, wary of the dangers of a Buddhist backlash, but has appointed former UN chief Kofi Annan to help solve the state's troubles.

SITTWE, Myanmar: Four years after fleeing religious riots that emptied her Muslim Rohingya neighbourhood in Myanmar's Rakhine State, Myee Shay yearns for the trappings of a normal life: a job, a school for her children and the chance to buy her own food.

But the 35-year-old, like tens of thousands of others displaced by the violence, remains trapped in a displacement camp, unable to return home in a region ruptured by conflict between Muslims and a majority-Buddhist population.

"We eat when we get our quota," Myee Shay told AFP, referring to monthly rations of food, mostly rice, that families receive from aid groups in the camps.

"If we do not get it, we cannot eat," the mother-of-four added.

She spoke while frying plant stalks collected from the outskirts of the Thet Kae Pyin camp - an attempt to enrich the meagre meals as well as do something productive to break the tedium of days spent waiting for change that never seems to come.

A woman walks among debris after fire destroyed shelters at a camp for internally displaced Rohingy

A woman walks among debris after fire destroyed shelters at a camp for internally displaced Rohingya Muslims near Sittwe. (Photo: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun/Files)

Flooded during the monsoon and dust-choked in the hot season, the camps are clustered on the outskirts of the state capital Sittwe.

They mostly hold Rohingya, a stateless group that became the target of riots after long-running discrimination against Muslims boiled over in 2012 - although several thousand ethnic Rakhine Buddhists also lost their homes in the violence.

That bloodshed left more than 100 people dead and saw thousands of homes torched by mobs.

Anti-Muslim sentiment runs high in the impoverished region, fanned by hardline Buddhist nationalists who revile the Rohingya and are viscerally opposed to any move to grant them citizenship.

They insist the roughly one-million strong group are intruders from neighbouring Bangladesh, even though many can trace their ancestry in Myanmar back generations.

Today the state is effectively segregated on religious grounds, with no major moves to see the displaced return home.

Former U.N. chief Kofi Annan attends a meeting with local leaders at the Aung Mingalar Rohingya int

Former UN chief Kofi Annan attends a meeting with local leaders at the Aung Mingalar Rohingya internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in Sittwe. (Photo: Reuters/ Wa Lone)

International rights groups have urged Myanmar's democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi to grant the Rohingya citizenship.

But the Nobel Laureate has shied away from coming to their defence, wary of the dangers of a Buddhist backlash.

Last week she appointed former UN chief Kofi Annan to advise her government on how to heal the state's caustic divides.

This week he visited internally displaced people from both communities in Rakhine where he was jeered by angry Buddhist protesters on his arrival.

STUCK IN LIMBO

"Security is everywhere, we cannot go anywhere," said Shwe Sin, Myee Shay's mother, of a web of government restrictions that heap misery on daily life.

Their family of 14 lives in a cramped hut made of thatched bamboo and plastic scraps.

The family can not leave the camp to work and they are almost entirely dependent on humanitarian aid.

"Without freedom of movement, farmers can't go to their fields, fishermen can't go to the sea, traders can't go to the market," said Pierre Peron, a spokesperson for UNOCHA in Myanmar.

Most of the barracks-style shelters in the camps were only built to last three years and now, battered by annual deluges of rain, need to be rebuilt.

Internally displaced Rohingya women and children look from behind the fence of their temporary home

Internally displaced Rohingya women and children look from behind the fence of their temporary home at the Thae Chaung IDP camp. (Photo: Reuters/Minzayar)

Healthcare and education is at best patchy inside the camps, with aid groups desperately plugging the yawning gaps in the system that see frequent outbreaks of sickness.

While aid groups say the ultimate goal is for displaced people to go home, the immediate priority must be to ensure "minimum living standards are met," Peron added.

Myee Shay laments the grinding reality of her family's life, one that means her children go without medical care when they are sick.

"I have no money... My husband doesn't work as we have no job here. What can we do?"

Source: AFP/hs

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