(UNHCR) – The UN refugee agency said on Friday that villagers in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state continue to leave their homes in search of food, health care and other assistance some four months after inter-communal violence swept through the region.
“According to figures provided by the local authorities, there are currently some 75,000 internally displaced people in IDP camps in Rakhine state, mostly in and around the townships of Sittwe, Kyauk Taw and Maungdaw,” UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said.
This was an increase from the initial government estimate of around 50,000 displaced people shortly after the unrest broke out in early June. In early August, there was a resurgence of violence in Kyauk Taw township; more than 4,000 people had their homes burned down in the attacks.
“Many more people are believed to have been indirectly affected by the violence,” said Edwards. “The humanitarian community is committed to assisting all affected communities in accordance with the humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality and neutrality,” he added.
Despite the rising trend, there have been some returns. Since June, for example, many displaced people whose houses remain intact in Sittwe town have gone home. A fragile calm has returned but the situation is still tense.
Movement is still restricted in parts of Rakhine state, preventing some villagers from going to work, accessing markets, food supplies, health services and education. Out of desperation, people are leaving villages to seek food and medical assistance at the IDP camps.
“Together with our humanitarian partners, UNHCR has been advocating for greater humanitarian access and for support to be provided to these villages. We hope that by delivering aid in places of origin, humanitarian agencies can help to prevent further displacement and make interventions that can facilitate the eventual return of IDPs,” spokesman Edwards said.
As part of the inter-agency response in Rakhine state, UNHCR has distributed relief supplies for some 54,000 people in IDP sites. These supplies include plastic sheets, sleeping mats, blankets, mosquito nets and kitchen sets.
The refugee agency is also supporting the construction of emergency temporary shelters that can house about 10,500 people. At the same time, the humanitarian community is working to support the delivery of basic assistance in these government-run IDP camps, making sure that the displaced people are provided with food, water, sanitation and health care until the situation stabilizes sufficiently for them to return home.