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Aid group could return to Rakhine state this month, health official says

By John Zaw, Mandalay
September 10, 2014

Health officials in Myanmar’s Rakhine state say the government will meet with aid group Médecins Sans Frontières-Holland this week for discussions that could see medical operations by MSF resume later this month.

U Aye Nyein, head of Rakhine state’s health department, told that officials from the Ministry of Health will meet with the aid group to discuss a way forward for MSF, which was ordered to cease operations in Rakhine earlier this year. Aye Nyein said MSF must also meet with officials on the Emergency Coordination Committee (ECC), which is tasked with monitoring the work of international aid groups.

“I think that the discussion process will not take too long and MSF can carry out its operations in Rakhine state late this September,” Aye Nyein told in an interview.

MSF announced this week that it had signed a new Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Health that it hoped would pave the way for a return to Rakhine.

“We hope this measure translates into an early resumption of our activities in Rakhine and provides the opportunity to engage with the communities on the ground,” MSF said in a statement.

An MSF official declined to provide further details when contacted by

Either way, it remains unclear just how much freedom the group will have to operate in what remains a tense environment. The group was ordered to leave Rakhine earlier this year after it faced accusations that its medical aid favored the state’s Rohingya Muslims over the majority Rakhine Buddhist population. Officially, the government accused the group of falsifying reports about its treatment of 22 survivors of a massacre of 40 Rohingya in northern Rakhine that the UN said involved Myanmar security forces.

“We would like MSF to take a balanced … approach to [the] two communities,” Aye Nyein said.

Prejudice and discrimination have been deep-rooted in restive Rakhine state and local Rakhine Buddhists frequently accuse aid workers and the international community at large of favoring the Rohingya, who the United Nations designates as one of the most persecuted peoples in the world. If or when MSF does return to Rakhine, its aid workers will be returning to a similarly fraught environment.

Than Tun, a Rakhine Buddhist, said in an interview that the local Rakhine community remains suspicious of MSF’s work.

“We are not opposing the humanitarian aid to the Rohingya, but we are strongly opposed to their interference in our state affairs under the name of a humanitarian response,” sad Than Tun, who is also a member of the ECC.

“If they make the same mistake in the future, I would say that they will surely face the same consequences.”

In the meantime, the situation remains critical for Rohingya Muslims, thousands of whom have lacked access to proper healthcare as a result of MSF’s forced withdrawal in February.

“In terms of healthcare, the already dire situation is deteriorating in Rohingya camps since the expulsion of MSF in Rakhine,” said Pierre Peron, public information officer in Myanmar for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

“The Ministry of Health has stepped in, in an effort to provide healthcare, but it’s a big gap for healthcare situation in refugee camps.”

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