Myanmar blocks all UN aid to civilians at centre of Rohingya crisis

All UN aid agencies have been blocked from prioviding vital supplies to thousands of civilians caught up in the bloody campaign, following attacks on government forces

Rohingya Muslims, fleeing military operations in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, make their way to Bangladesh. Source: The Guardian
Rohingya Muslims, fleeing military operations in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, make their way to Bangladesh. Source: The Guardian

All United Nations aid agencies have been effectively blocked by Myanmar in Northern Rakhine following attacks by militants on government forces on August 25. The army then responses with a counter-offensive that has killed hundreds.

The UN is now unable to deliver vital supplies of food, water and medicine to thousands of civilians who have been caught up in the bloody campaign.

According to UN Resident Coordinator in Myanmar, the supplies were blocked because “the security situation and government field-visit restrictions rendered us unable to distribute assistance”, suggesting that authorities were not providing permission to operate.

In the deadliest violence for years in the area, the military has been accused of horrible atrocities against the persecuted Muslium Rohingya minority, thousands of whom have fled their burning villages to neighbouring Bangladesh, many of them injured.

Staff from UN refugee agency (UNHCR) as well as many others have not conducted any field work in the area for over 7 days, a halt that could have devastating effects on the residents.

UN World Food Programme (WFP) also claimed that distributions were suspended to other parts of the state, leaving more than a quarter of a million people without access to regular food.

Humanitarian organisations are “deeply concerned about the fate of thousands of people affected by the ongoing violence” in northern Rakhine, said Pierre Peron, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Myanmar.

Although the Rohingya have suffered oppression for decades, the recent bout of violence is seen as a dangerous escalation because it was sparked by a new Rohingya militant group called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.

The military claim that 400 people have been killed, the vast majority of them “terrorists”, although a government block on access to Rakhine makes it virtually impossible to verify the figures.

An estimated 1.1 million Rohingya live in Myanmar, which does not grant them citizenship and has been internationally condemned for its treatment of the ethnic minority.

In the meantime Leader Aung San Suu Kyi has forged an antagonistic relationship with humanitarian organisations, as her office accused aid workers of helping “terrorists”, a claim which prompted fears for their safety.

Since 2012, when violence forced them out of their homes, over 100,000 Rohingya have been living in displacement camps in Rakhine and they have also stopped receiving assistance as of last week.

Authorities have also denied international staff access by holding up visa approvals while “non-critical” staff from the north of the state have been evacuated.

“There is an urgent need to ensure that displaced people and other civilians affected by the violence are protected and are given safe access to humanitarian assistance including food, water, shelter, and health services,” OCHA spokesman Peron said.

“Humanitarian aid normally goes to these vulnerable people for a very good reason, because they depend on it,” he added. “For the sake of vulnerable people in all communities in Rakhine state, urgent measures must be taken to allow vital humanitarian activities to resume.”

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