NGOs in Myanmar mull ways to provide aid in Rakhine after MSF’s suspension
International humanitarian groups operating in Myanmar are considering how they can provide assistance to those in Rakhine state, after Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), or Doctors without Borders, was ordered to stop its operations there.
|Muslim Rohingya are shown in the Mayebon Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in Mayebon township, in the western Myanmar Rakhine state. (Photo: AFP/Soe Than Win)|
By May Wong
March 4, 2014
YANGON: International humanitarian groups operating in Myanmar are considering how they can provide assistance to those in Rakhine state, after Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), or Doctors without Borders, was ordered to stop its operations there.
Authorities said MSF's suspension was because its contract in the state had expired and that the group is renegotiating the agreement with the government.
There are close to 70 foreign NGOs in Myanmar that provide aid to people across different parts of the country.
Groups like MSF have had decades of experience working in Myanmar, but that work has to stop in Rakhine for now.
The Myanmar government said the NGO has violated the confines of their agreement.
But some believe it is because MSF had claimed they treated victims of sectarian violence in Rakhine recently -- a claim the authorities reject.
The suspension has had a chilling effect on other NGOs.
Christopher Herink, national director of World Vision Myanmar, said: "It's fair to say that we are mindful. We do want to understand what the basis of the decision was between the government and MSF.
“We're not privy to all the direct bilateral conversations but it's a matter of concern and we're mindful of our own actions and as I said, continue to calibrate our actions on an ongoing basis. We also don't want our activities suspended. I think that's pretty self-evident.
“In the same way that MSF is providing essential services on a short term basis, World Vision is as well. World Vision is also providing long term development assistance. So we do want to understand what the basis of this decision is… and continue to bolster the confidence of the government that we're here really to serve the people of Myanmar."
MSF has warned that tens of thousands of people in Rakhine are facing a humanitarian medical crisis with its pull-out from that conflict zone.
World Vision, with their work in providing clean water and healthcare, is among the many groups in the NGO community looking to see how it can plug the gap.
Mr Herink said: "In terms of this situation… -- a major provider of humanitarian assistance has been asked to stop their operations and so as a community, we look at what needs are not being met as a result of that situation, be it in terms of water, or sanitation or education, primary healthcare. And what we try to do is to try and understand where those gaps are and where we can, as a humanitarian community, go and meet and fill those gaps.
“There is regular coordination that's taking place – (there are) daily meetings between the NGOs but also the UN and the government as well. So together, we have a collective commitment and I would say as well, it's very important that we understand that we operate with a principle, with a value of impartiality."
Mr Herink believes it is important for NGOs to use this opportunity to build on the trust established with the Myanmar government and to emphasise their key objective of helping the Myanmar people.
But other NGOs may not be as comfortable with their position in Myanmar, after the MSF incident.
Many international NGOs that Channel NewsAsia spoke to have refused to comment, saying the issue is too sensitive and their headquarters have instructed them not to do so.
However, some of them said that it is clear the Myanmar government has gotten their point of non-interference across very effectively.
The incident has also reminded them that their actions may sometimes inevitably be seen as political.
They are monitoring the situation very closely and are exercising more caution when performing their humanitarian work.