Six months on, needs still great in Myanmar's Rakhine state

Briefing Notes, 7 December 2012

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 7 December 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Six months after inter-communal violence broke out in western Myanmar's Rakhine state, some 115,000 displaced people are still living in challenging conditions. UNHCR has distributed relief supplies to nearly two-thirds of the affected communities but the needs are still massive.

Currently, people are unable to return to their homes due to widespread destruction and continuing tensions. We are working with the Myanmar authorities on awareness of proper standards for safe and voluntary return when the right conditions are in place. In addition, we continue to advocate citizenship as a solution for those who are displaced and without nationality.

More than 100 people were killed and thousands of homes destroyed in waves of unrest in June, August and late October. Today the displaced people are living with host families and in relief camps and temporary sites. In recent weeks, makeshift shacks have sprouted on roadsides in the state capital, Sittwe. Some shack dwellers say their host families could no longer support them while others are believed to have come from remote camps in the hope of getting assistance.

This week UNHCR erected tents donated by the Korea International Cooperation Agency to provide better shelter for these recent arrivals. We have also moved approximately 5,000 people into longhouse-style bamboo huts on the outskirts of Sittwe. We are also building additional ones for more than 12,000 and more than 220 permanent homes for returnees in Maungdaw.

As part of the inter-agency response to the emergency in Rakhine state, UNHCR is leading efforts in protection, shelter, non-food items and camp coordination and management for the displaced people. Our assistance is targeted at both affected communities based on their needs.

To date, UNHCR has distributed supplies including plastic sheets, blankets, and kitchen sets to some 70,000 people. An additional 3,500 UNHCR tents are scheduled to arrive by boat in Sittwe this weekend to provide emergency shelter to people displaced in October, and now in scattered locations including Pauk Taw, Mrauk-U, Kyauktaw and Myebon.

UNHCR is working with the authorities and other humanitarian agencies to ensure basic standards in the relief camps around Sittwe. Shelters, for example, need to be properly spaced out to prevent overcrowding and the potential health and social problems associated with overcrowding. We are also advocating for the provision of water, sanitation and health care services, and a way of managing the camps that involves the displaced communities themselves.

There are still areas in the Rakhine state that are hard to reach due to their remote location and continuing tensions. Nonetheless, UNHCR staff have distributed basic relief items and are advocating with the government and partners to improve site planning and provide basic services there. Some NGO staff have been reluctant to go to certain areas where inter-communal tensions are still high. In Myebon, UNHCR has been distributing aid and providing transport for doctors to attend to the sick.

At the same time, efforts must begin to pave the way for the eventual return of displaced people in safety and dignity. UNHCR has been urging the government to do more in the affected villages to promote tolerance and peaceful coexistence between the two communities, so as to create an environment conducive for return.

The UN refugee agency has received less than 30 per cent of the $24.35 million we need to care for the displaced people in Rakhine state until June next year.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Yangon: Anna Little on mobile +95 945 006 1374
  • In Bangkok: Vivian Tan on mobile +66 818 270 280



UNHCR country pages

Internally Displaced People

The internally displaced seek safety in other parts of their country, where they need help.

Related Internet Links

UNHCR is not responsible for the content and availability of external internet sites

Myanmar Cyclone Victims Still Need Aid

With eight relief flights and an earlier truck convoy from nearby Thailand, UNHCR had by June 6, 2008 moved 430 tonnes of shelter and basic household supplies into Myanmar to help as many as 130,000 victims of Cyclone Nargis. The aid includes plastic sheeting, plastic rolls, mosquito nets, blankets and kitchen sets. Once the aid arrives in the country it is quickly distributed.

On the outskirts of the city of Yangon – which was also hit by the cyclone – and in the Irrawady delta, some families have been erecting temporary shelters made out of palm leaf thatching. But they desperately need plastic sheeting to keep out the monsoon rains.

Posted on 12 June 2008

Myanmar Cyclone Victims Still Need Aid

Sri Lanka: IDPs and Returnees

During Sri Lanka's 20-year civil war more than 1 million people were uprooted from their homes or forced to flee, often repeatedly. Many found shelter in UNHCR-supported Open Relief Centers, in government welfare centers or with relatives and friends.

In February 2002, the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) signed a cease-fire accord and began a series of talks aimed at negotiating a lasting peace. By late 2003, more than 300,000 internally displaced persons had returned to their often destroyed towns and villages.

In the midst of these returns, UNHCR provided physical and legal protection to war affected civilians – along with financing a range of special projects to provide new temporary shelter, health and sanitation facilities, various community services, and quick and cheap income generation projects.

Sri Lanka: IDPs and Returnees

Returnees in Myanmar

During the early 1990s, more than 250,000 Rohingya Muslims fled across the border into Bangladesh, citing human rights abuses by Myanmar's military government. In exile, refugees received shelter and assistance in 20 camps in the Cox's Bazaar region of Bangladesh. More than 230,000 of the Rohingya Muslims have returned since 1992, but about 22,000 still live in camps in Bangladesh. To promote stability in returnee communities in Myanmar and to help this group of re-integrate into their country, UNHCR and its partner agencies provide monitors to insure the protection and safety of the returnees as well as vocational training, income generation schemes, adult literacy programs and primary education.

Returnees in Myanmar

South Sudan: A Long Walk in Search of Safety Play video

South Sudan: A Long Walk in Search of Safety

Years of fighting between Sudan and rebel forces have sent more than 240,000 people fleeing to neighbouring South Sudan, a country embroiled in its own conflict. After weeks on foot, Amal Bakith and her five children are settling in at Ajoung Thok refugee camp where they receive food, shelter, access to education and land.
Tanzania: Fleeing Burundi, Refugees Seek SafetyPlay video

Tanzania: Fleeing Burundi, Refugees Seek Safety

He used to fix broken bicycles in Burundi, but as political troubles and killings mounted Nestor Kamza decided to flee. In search of safety he and his family walked non-stop for 24-hours until they reached Tanzania. His family is among more than 100,000 people who have fled from political violence in Burundi and arrived in the Nyarugusu camp which has almost tripled in size. To alleviate overcrowding in the camp, UNHCR and its partners have planned to open three new camps and have started moving tens of thousands of Burundian refugees to a new, less congested, home
Nigeria: Back to schoolPlay video

Nigeria: Back to school

When gun-toting Boko Haram insurgents attacked villages in north-eastern Nigeria, thousands of children fled to safety. They now have years of lessons to catch up on as they return to schools, some of which now double as camps for internally displaced people or remain scarred by bullets.