EU aid envoy decries Myanmar camp conditions
November 23, 2013
YANGON: A European Union humanitarian envoy on Saturday voiced concern at the "dramatic deprivation" in Myanmar's camps for tens of thousands of people, mainly Muslims, made homeless by deadly unrest in Rakhine State.
Violence in Rakhine last year killed scores and displaced 140,000 people - many from the stateless Rohingya Muslim minority - prompting international concern about the state, which is now virtually segregated on religious lines.
After a visit to the area this week, Claus Sorensen, the head of the EU's humanitarian aid department (ECHO), said in a statement he was disturbed by the "dramatic deprivation of the affected communities and disrespect of fundamental rights.”
He also voiced alarm at threats by "extremist elements" against aid workers trying to deliver basic necessities to the camps, echoing growing international concern over the issue.
His comments on the trip, which concludes on Saturday, come after Myanmar on Thursday said it would not grant citizenship to people identifying themselves as Rohingya, despite pressure from the United Nations.
Myanmar sees the Rohingya in Rakhine as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.
Many in the Buddhist-majority nation view the group with hostility, referring to them as "Bengalis" - an often pejorative term.
Sorensen said he recognised there was "sensitivity" over the word Rohingya, but urged the country to move beyond “labels.”
Unrest in Rakhine - and the deprivations that have followed - have prompted thousands of Muslims to flee Myanmar in rickety and overcrowded boats trying to reach Malaysia and further afield.
But scores have died or gone missing in choppy seas.
"They are not all going to go on the boats and disappear in the ocean... it's a scandal," Sorensen told reporters in Yangon, estimating there were at least 800,000 Rohingya in the region.
"They will be still there. So we have to find the way to solve this issue so that it will not be a threat against the overall development of Myanmar." Violence against Muslims spread beyond Rakhine this year, with several other outbreaks of religious conflict that have overshadowed the nation's widely-praised reform drive.
The EU on Saturday said it was boosting aid to those displaced in Rakhine and northern Kachin - where some 115,000 people have been forced into camps by fighting between the army and ethnic rebels.