UNHCR begins aid airlift for IDPs in western Myanmar

Briefing Notes, 23 November 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 23 November 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

A first airlift of UNHCR tents to the victims of recent violence in Myanmar's Rakhine state left Dubai this morning and is expected to arrive in Myanmar shortly. This follows an appeal this week by the UN refugee agency and partner agencies for additional funds to cover humanitarian needs in the affected areas.

The plane that left Dubai today is the first of two planned flights for this weekend. Dubai is home to UNHCR's emergency stockpiles. In all 3,500 family-sized tents are being provided for 17,500 internally displaced people.

Since the unrest erupted in June, UNHCR has already distributed over 500 tents from in-country stocks and 700 tents donated by the Korea International Cooperation Agency. But the shelter needs are immense, with renewed violence in late October bringing the number of IDPs in Rakhine state to more than 115,000.

The existing relief camps are overcrowded, and host families are struggling to support themselves. Some people are living on the sites of their burnt-out homes, while others are sleeping on boats or taking refuge on islets. The displaced population is in urgent need of a safe place to stay.

Under the inter-agency response in Rakhine state, UNHCR is the lead agency for emergency shelter, non-food relief items, camp coordination and camp management, and protection. It is seeking US$24.35 million to meet these needs until next June.

Shelter needs vary across Rakhine state. In the northern township of Maungdaw, UNHCR and its partners are working to rebuild homes to support the return of people affected by the June unrest. In and around the state capital Sittwe, the priority is to provide temporary shelters for IDPs who cannot yet return home amidst ongoing inter-communal tensions. The government, together with UNHCR and the World Food Programme, has built longhouse-style shelters for more than 4,000 families

To date, UNHCR has distributed relief items for more than 50,000 IDPs. This includes plastic sheets, blankets, mosquito nets, jerry cans and kitchen sets, as well as family items such as clothing and hygiene materials. An additional 25,000 kits of basic relief items and 25,000 kits of family items are needed.

The Myanmar Government is responsible for the management of the 24 IDP camps around Sittwe. UNHCR is providing support by coordinating services such as water, sanitation and health care in compliance with basic humanitarian standards and protection principles. The agency is also working to ensure equitable aid distribution in the camps and the guarantee of basic safety and security for camp residents. At the same time, it is training government officials in camp management, setting up mechanisms to engage IDPs, map displacement trends and monitor protection issues in the congested camps.

While we work to deliver urgent humanitarian aid, the protection needs of the affected population remain a priority for us. Since the June unrest, we have seen increased restrictions on movement, which is affecting people's livelihoods and food security. Access to basic services has also been difficult. If not addressed, these problems could trigger further displacement.

The longer-term solution lies in promoting community reconciliation and addressing the underlying causes of inter-communal tensions in Rakhine state, namely the lack of citizenship which is affecting a significant number of the population of Rakhine State. UNHCR is ready to support the government and to provide expertise on issues relating to citizenship laws.

For more information on this topic, please contact: