The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement’s response in Rakhine State, Myanmar

24 May 2017

Frequently Asked Questions – FAQs

This document has been prepared by the partners of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (the Movement) who are involved in providing humanitarian assistance and other programmes in Rakhine State, Myanmar. These partners include the Myanmar Red Cross Society (MRCS), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the Qatari Red Crescent. This document’s focus is on the Movement’s response to the violence in the northern areas of Rakhine Stateand ensuing humanitarian needs.

Background

 In the beginning of October 2016, an upsurge of violence in the northern area of Myanmar’s Rakhine State led to mass displacement amongst the local population. The violence took place against a backdrop of decades of protracted tension and intercommunal violence between Rakhine and Muslim communities in Rakhine.

The violence was sparked by a series of coordinated attacks on 9 October on border police stations in Maungdaw and Rathedaung townships, located in the northern area of Rakhine State. The attacks triggered an immediate response from security forces in Myanmar, which resulted in access to these areas being denied for humanitarian organizations and the media.

 A second wave of attacks in November 2016 led to increased security operations by the Myanmar military and large-scale displacement of predominantly Muslim populations. This displacement included approximately 70,000 people who crossed the border to Cox’s Bazar District in Bangladesh and approximately 20,000 people who were internally displaced within Rakhine State.

As of April 2017, reports suggest that an estimated 16,000 people who were internally displaced have returned to their home communities, in addition to small numbers of people who have returned from Cox’s Bazar. It is estimated that some 4,000 people remain internally displaced.

 What are the current humanitarian needs in the northern areas of Rakhine State?

The people of Rakhine State have suffered decades of underdevelopment, poverty and intercommunal tensions. We are concerned about the disruption to the humanitarian assistance that was already being provided. Prior to the October 2016 attacks, many people in Rakhine State were receiving humanitarian assistance, including 150,000 who were receiving food and nutritional support in the northern part of Rakhine. Of most concern are up to 3,000 children who were classified as severely malnourished.

From October 2016 to March 2017, access to the affected areas of northern Rakhine State was very limited and, therefore, no comprehensive needs assessment was available to fully understand the scope of humanitarian needs on the ground. However, based on reports on observations from initial field trips, we believe that there are extensive humanitarian needs among the affected population including for food, health care, safe drinking water and shelter. In addition, many families have been separated or lost contact with each other, which increases their vulnerability.

What are you currently doing in the northern areas of Rakhine State?

At the beginning of the crisis in October 2016, MRCS staff and volunteers based in townships in areas of northern Rakhine State (Buthidaung, Kyauktaw and Maungdaw) and central Rakhine State (Mrauk-U, Minbya and Sittwe) worked closely with the ICRC and the IFRC to assist over 3,000 displaced people by providing drinking water and essential items. (The items include mosquito nets, kitchen sets, tarpaulins and hygiene kits such as buckets, shampoo, toothbrushes and toothpaste.)

From its office in Maungdaw, the ICRC provided ongoing logistical support for Myanmar Ministry of Health and Sports mobile health teams (including emergency health kits, hygiene sets for the staff, rental of cars and drivers) and for emergency referral services to transport patients from north of Maungdaw to the township hospitals in Maungdaw and Buthidaung.

The ICRC and MRCS maintain a permanent presence in Maungdaw town, where work continues on infrastructure improvements, provision of medical equipment, and training of local authorities on hospital-waste management for medical staff in Maungdaw and Buthidaung.

 The MRCS has established a hub to support capacity development and preparedness of its local branch office and volunteers with the support of the ICRC, IFRC and Qatari Red Crescent.Notably, the ICRC has delivered over 500 family messages to help restore contact between separated family members, and with the Ministry of Health is assessing the best ways to improve access to health care for the local population.

Since March 2017, the ICRC’s access to affected areas of northern Rakhine has been gradually improving. As a result, its activities have resumed in these areas. While this recent access is encouraging, it is still too early for a comprehensive assessment of the humanitarian situation.

As access expands, the aim for the International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, guided by the recently developed Movement Framework for Action, is to continue to reconnect more families, expand health programmes and possibly redeploy MRCS mobile health clinics from other areas, improve access to clean drinking water, provide emergency shelter support, provide livelihood support and help to strengthen the capacity of the local MRCS branch.

Additionally, the ICRC was pleased that the Myanmar authorities agreed to its proposal to restart regular prison visits in Rakhine State after a delay of several months. The ICRC chose Buthidaung as the first prison to visit in resuming these activities, and conducted this visit the week of 24 April.

The Movement is strengthening its communication with key stakeholders, including communities, community-based organizations and the Rakhine State Parliament, to further increase its acceptance and access to all communities who require assistance.

Are you active in the rest of Rakhine State?

In central Rakhine, our humanitarian activities either continue uninterrupted, have resumed after a short interruption or, in some cases, have expanded.  

The MRCS, with the support of the IFRC, QRCS and other Movement partners, is working with 76 communities in Sittwe, Mrauk-U, Minbya and Pauktaw townships to provide community-based health, livelihood and first aid programming as well as disaster risk reduction and preparedness, and shelter programmes. The programming is partly in the catchment areas of the ICRC and Ministry of Health and Sports projects, which are designed to improve health infrastructure and address livelihood and water and sanitation needs in Kyauktaw, Mrauk-U, Minbya, Pauktaw and Myebon Townships. In addition, the MRCS is running two mobile clinics in Sittwe Township with the support of the QRCS.

The MRCS is currently working with UNICEF on a CLTS (community-led total sanitation) project which covers 120 villages in Kyautaw, Mrauk-U and Minbya.

Certain international organizations have highlighted alarming allegations of mistreatment and “crimes against humanity” against the Muslim population in the northern areas of Rakhine. What is the Movement’s view on these allegations?

The Movement is deeply concerned by these reports, even though we have limited first-hand information. We are worried about the welfare of those directly affected by the violence, and the destruction of their property and livelihoods. Reports of sexual or gender-based violence are particularly alarming, and those affected must be treated humanely and receive medical treatment and psychosocial support in a confidential manner.

What is your response to migrants from northern areas of Rakhine who have crossed the border into Bangladesh?

Since October 2016, over 70,000 people have crossed from Rakhine State into Bangladesh. Many are living in unplanned and overcrowded settlements in the district of Cox’s Bazar, where living conditions are extremely poor.

Since January 2017, the IFRC and ICRC in Bangladesh have supported the relief efforts of the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society (BDRCS) including in the distribution of food, blankets, emergency shelter materials, water containers, installation of mobile toilets and other items to newly-arrived families. Mobile health clinics have also been providing medical care to both displaced populations and host communities. The ICRC is helping families who have been separated to make contact through its Restoring Family Links (RFL) services.

 On 19 March 2017, the IFRC launched an emergency appeal for 3.2 million Swiss francs to enable the BDRCS to provide targeted support for 25,000 displaced people in Cox’s Bazar over a nine-month period. This assistance includes the distribution of food and other items including shelter materials, installation and repair of wells to provide clean water, construction of toilet facilities to improve sanitation, and tree-planting campaigns to prevent the local environment from being denuded. Volunteers from the BDRCS are also being trained in psychosocial support (including gender based violence) to ease the distress of families, and the Movement is ensuring that staff and volunteers are aware of referral pathways for any victims of abuse, so that staff and volunteers can, in turn, share that knowledge about available services.

The BDRCS, supported by the ICRC, has recently distributed food assistance to more than 19,000 people (3200 families) who have been residing in host communities in Bangladesh since October 2016. The BDRCS and ICRC have been responding to the most urgent of needs of the families from Rakhine since the beginning of the crisis. They provide health services in two major health complexes in Teknaf and Ukhia.

RFL services, supported by the ICRC, include the provision of a phone service, written messages and tracing requests to re-establish contact between separated family members. The ICRC is working in partnership with the BDRCS in order to reinforce the emergency response in Cox’s Bazar, by providing food and other relief for the new arrivals living in host communities.

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