Up to 75,000 Muslim Rohingyas are housed in temporary camps under poor conditions, four months after violence broke out between Buddhist and Muslim communities in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, Refugees International said Saturday.
“There are somewhere between 65,000 to 75,000 Rohingyas living in camps in Sittwe,” said Sarnata Reynolds, programme manager for statelessness at the advocacy group for refugee rights.
Although the camps in the state capital, located 500 kilometres north-west of Yangon, are receiving humanitarian aid from the United Nations and Medicines Sans Frontiers, sanitary and health conditions were bleak, it said.
“We went to a school that has 1,800 living in it in one big room with two latrines and no showers,” Ms. Reynolds said. “There is acute malnutrition and some cases of tuberculosis.” A Refugees International team was permitted last week to visit eight camps for Rohingya refugees in Sittwe.
The refugees have been living in the camps since mid-June when communal fighting in Sittwe forced the vast majority of the Muslim Rohingya population to flee.
Out of the 12 Rohingya neighbourhoods previously in Sittwe, one remained. Its estimated 8,000 residents have been barricaded into the neighbourhood.
“This community was able to defend themselves during the violence, but now they are restricted to their neighbourhood,” Ms. Reynolds said. “If they leave, they face attack or arrest.” An informal system of traders is providing the community with food, she said.
Refugees International called on the Myanmar government to take steps towards bringing the Rohingya displaced by the violence back to Sittwe and in the long term to provide citizenship for the Muslim minority group.
The Rohingya, who number about 800,000 in the three northernmost Rakine townships, have been legally discriminated against in Myanmar for decades.
Their statelessness dates to the 1982 Citizen Law, which identified 135 ethnic minority groups in Myanmar. It excluded the Rohingya and stipulated that people of Indian and Chinese descent who could not prove their ancestry predated the 1824-1948 colonial period were not entitled to citizenship.
The plight of the Rohingya came to world attention with the June clashes, which left at least 89 dead and about 90,000 displaced.
About 3,000 Buddhist Rakhine were also displaced by the violence and they also continue to live in temporary camps, Ms. Reynolds said.