Rushanara Ali MP reports back on her visit to Burma with Refugees International

Following the violence that erupted between Muslim and Buddhist communities in Rakhine State in June and October 2012, Shadow Minister for International Development, Rushanara Ali MP, reported back from a trip to Burma where she visited Rohingya, Kaman and Rakhine camps in Rakhine State and met with NGOs, UN agencies and Rohingya activists.

She said:

“I am grateful to Refugees International and Burma Campaign UK for giving me the unique opportunity to witness firsthand the catastrophic humanitarian situation that is unfolding in Rakhine State. Nearly a year since inter-communal violence first broke out, which overwhelmingly targeted the Rohingya population, tens of thousands of people are living in makeshift camps lacking food, water, sanitation, adequate shelter and access to healthcare. The violence has not only caused massive internal displacement, but also a tragic loss of life, livelihoods and property. Muslim and Buddhist communities that previously lived side-by-side remain deeply divided with violence spreading, including against Muslims in other parts of the country.

“During my visit, I had the opportunity to meet many internally displaced people who have lost their homes and are living in dire makeshift camps and informal settlements, cut off from healthcare, clean water and basic necessities. A group of internally displaced women living in a camp in Pauktaw Township told me that many women had died in their camp since the October violence began because they could not access adequate maternal healthcare or travel to the nearest hospital due to restrictions on their movements and hospitals refusing to accept Muslim patients.

“Burma is prone to cyclones and ­flooding during the rainy season. With the monsoon rapidly approaching, there are serious concerns that flooding will exacerbate the humanitarian situation and increase the risk of water-borne diseases. Most of the shelters I saw were made of tarpaulin and rice bags that cannot withstand even moderate rains. With no formal plans or any sign of action from the Burmese authorities to move these camps or provide an alternative solution to address shelter needs, one Rohingya man told me that displaced people, particularly those living near the coast, were growing fearful for their lives ahead of the upcoming rainy season.

“Displaced people are living in constant fear of violence, abuse and harassment both from the security services and from fears of a further attack from sections of the Rakhine population. One of the recurring themes that came up in my discussions was the threat to their security and personal safety, which is one of the main factors preventing them from returning to their places of origin. At the heart of this humanitarian crisis lies the question of citizenship. The Rohingya population are referred to as “Bengalis” by the authorities denying them their Burmese and ethnic citizenship rights. An urgent resolution is needed to the Rohingya’s human rights and citizenship status.”

At an event chaired by Baroness Kinnock and jointly organised by the APPG Burma and the APPG Human Rights, a video documenting Rushanara’s trip was screened. Rushanara highlighted the need for:

  • The UK government and the international community to press the Burmese authorities to facilitate unimpeded humanitarian access to Rakhine State and other parts of Burma.
  • The UK government and the international community to make urgent shelter arrangements ahead of the rainy season and make healthcare and sanitation urgent priorities.
  • The Burmese authorities must take steps to address the culture of marginalisation and discrimination of the Rohingya community in Burma, review and reform the 1982 Citizenship Law which renders the Rohingya stateless, denying them basic human rights.

Rushanara Ali MP spoke at a debate on human rights in Burma in the House of Commons on 8 May in which she raised the issues of humanitarian access and citizenship rights. The full transcript of the debate can be found here.