The United Nations refugee agency Friday announced it has started an aid airlift for those displaced by the recent inter-communal violence in Myanmar's Rakhine state.
The two flights that will leave from Dubai this weekend are bringing 3,500 family-sized tents for some 17,500 internally displaced persons (IDPs).
"The existing relief camps are overcrowded and host families are struggling to support themselves," the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Adrian Edwards, told reporters in Geneva. "Some people are living on the sites of their burnt-out homes, while others are sleeping on boats or taking refuge on islets. The displaced population is in urgent need of a safe place to stay."
The north of Rakhine state has been the site of inter-communal violence over recent months. The violence first began in June, with clashes between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, which eventually led the Government to declare a state of emergency there.
That bout of violence reportedly left at least a dozen civilians dead and hundreds of homes destroyed, while internally displacing some 75,000 people. Since then, at least 89 people have been killed and 36,000 displaced in the wake of a renewed upsurge in violence, beginning in late September, which also left more than 5,300 houses and religious buildings destroyed, according to UN estimates.
The new airlifts follow an appeal by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) for an additional $41 million to cover humanitarian needs in the affected areas. Since the unrest erupted, UNHCR has distributed over 500 tents from in-country stocks and 700 tents donated by the Korea International Cooperation Agency. However, "the shelter needs are immense," Edwards said.
UNHCR and its partners are also working to rebuild homes in the northern township of Maungdaw, to support the return of people affected by the June unrest. In the state capital, Sittwe, UNHCR and the World Food Programme (WFP) are providing temporary shelters for 4,000 families who cannot yet return home amidst ongoing inter-communal tensions.
The refugee agency has also provided relief items such as plastic sheets, blankets, mosquito nets, jerry cans and kitchen sets, as well as clothing and hygiene materials to more than 50,000 IDPs.
"While we work to deliver urgent humanitarian aid, the protection needs of the affected population remain a priority for us," Edwards said. "Since the June unrest, we have seen increased restrictions on movement, which is affecting people's livelihoods and food security. Access to basic services has also been difficult. If not addressed, these problems could trigger further displacement."
Edwards emphasized that a long-term solution lies in promoting community reconciliation and addressing the underlying causes of inter-communal tensions in Rakhine state, namely the lack of citizenship which is affecting a significant number of the population.
UNHCR is ready to support the Government and to provide expertise on issues relating to citizenship laws, Edwards added.