Displaced and blocked food fears in Rakhine State, Myanmar | Coronavirus pandemic news
The welfare of thousands of displaced people in the Rakhine State of western Myanmar is becoming more and more worrying. They were locked down after discovering COVID-19 in the camp and were unable to get enough food.
The Sin Bawkaing Internally Displaced Persons Camp (IDP) with nearly 4,000 people is the latest camp in the country to accelerate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since a woman was diagnosed with the virus on July 14, the camp has been locked down, and more cases have since appeared.
“It’s really shocking. I don’t know how to survive,” Win Nu, the 33-year-old mother of three children, told Al Jazeera by phone at the camp. She shared a small room with four family members. “The virus can easily spread throughout the camp.”
Six months after the military seized power from the democratically elected government of Myanmar in a coup that triggered a political and economic crisis, the country is now facing a new deadly wave of COVID-19.
On Wednesday, the Ministry of Health reported 4,980 new cases and 365 deaths, but said it had only conducted 13,763 tests nationwide, indicating that the epidemic was much larger than officially reported. Funeral services and local media have published even higher numbers. It is reported that there are 1,000 cremations per day in Yangon, the country’s largest city, but Al Jazeera cannot independently confirm these numbers.
“Once a person is infected, it is more likely to spread to others,” said Tazaung Sayadaw, a monk who has been forced to collect donations to support internally displaced people since the armed conflict between the Arakan Army (AA) and the Myanmar Army. Leaving their village started in 2018.
AA was established in 2009 and is one of Myanmar’s many ethnic armed groups. It hopes that the people of Rakhine State will achieve self-determination and have been fighting the Myanmar army for most of the past two years.
Before the coup, the National League for Democracy (NLD) government called on the military, the armed forces, to “smash” the AA, implement the world’s longest Internet shutdown, and designate the AA as a “terrorist organization.”
It also excluded the AA from its landmark peace conference and prevented the provision of humanitarian assistance to people affected by the conflict.
The state is already Bloody inter-ethnic violence In 2012, more than 130,000 Rohingya, mainly Muslims, were forced into camps in the state and deprived of their citizenship and rights to education, freedom of movement, and health care in accordance with government policies.
In 2017, the military launched Cruel suppression This forced hundreds of thousands of Rohingya to cross the border and flee to Bangladesh-now the object of international charges of genocide by the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands.
Local civil society groups estimate that there are still about 180,000 people displaced in the state, including some Rohingya.
Conflict, coup, COVID-19
Since the coup on February 1, almost no food aid or humanitarian aid has reached the camps, and most internally displaced persons have few other ways to earn income.
Many people are trying to support themselves and their families. Masks and hand sanitizers are also in short supply.
“Due to the military coup in Myanmar, humanitarian aid from countries or international organizations has been postponed because the military has restricted access to internally displaced persons camps by international organizations,” said Aung Hla*, a social worker from Kyaukphyu township, who has been working since 2018. Support the displaced, told Al Jazeera. “As a result, it has become more difficult to raise awareness of the COVID-19 virus and essential items [such as mask, soap and sanitiser] Used for camp prevention. “
There are more than 100 camps throughout Rakhine State, and people often live in bamboo or tarpaulin sheds, or sleep in open-air halls. The conditions are crowded and it is difficult to maintain social distancing.
The Sin Bawkaing IDP camp is one of the largest camps in Miao U Township, Rakhine State. It was built in March 2019 by displaced people from 20 villages in the area.
The blockade of the camp has had a serious impact on daily life.
“Although organizations like the World Food Program [World Food Programme] And the International Committee of the Red Cross [International Committee of the Red Cross] To provide us with humanitarian relief is not enough for us right now,” camp manager Nyi Pu told Al Jazeera over the phone at the camp. “The people in the camp are at food risk. They cannot find fish and other ingredients, including peppers and spices. And fish sauce and other necessities. This is why people are struggling now. “
Nyi Pu also stated that there is less support for COVID-19 prevention compared to the first and second waves in February and August 2020.
“Except for some masks provided by local donors, there is currently no support related to COVID-19 prevention,” he said.
On July 20, the Arakan United Alliance (ULA), a political branch of the AA, issued a two-week stay at home order from July 20 to August 4 to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Rakhine State.
The statement added: “If someone does not comply with the statement, action will be taken in accordance with the COVID-19 procedure.”
The AA, which declared a ceasefire since the November 2020 elections, has become the state’s de facto political authority since its enlistment in March. Deleted the terrorist name of the organization And released the imprisoned members.
“Even in the period before the coup, internally displaced persons are more susceptible to COVID-19,” Tun Tun*, a local humanitarian worker in Buthidaung township, told Al Jazeera. “Since the coup, the situation has gotten worse. If the military imposes stricter regulations on NGOs and international NGOs, people may suffer from hunger and COVID-19 infection.”
Tun Tun said that the global spread of the coronavirus has diverted attention from refugee camps in Rakhine State.
“Local and international organizations have been paying more attention to COVID-19 response measures, while people in IDP camps are starving,” he said. Currently, only the World Food Programme and the International Committee of the Red Cross are allowed to provide support to the camp.
The Red Cross told Al Jazeera that its access to camps in Rakhine State depends on “travel permits” and has not been allowed to enter Sin Bawkaing since 2019.
Nonetheless, it said it has adjusted its business to work with camp leaders and local authorities to ensure that people still have access to monthly supplies, including rations, medical supplies, and shelter materials such as bamboo and tarpaulins.
“To this day, the ICRC continues to provide regular and reliable assistance to people in the camp,” said Jurg Montani, acting head of the Myanmar delegation. He emphasized that the Red Cross has been approved to operate in most of the more than 50 camps for internally displaced persons in central Rakhine State, including 24 camps in Miaowu Township.
Before fighting broke out between AA and Tatmadaw, Win Nu worked as a daily wage worker on a vegetable farm. One night in March 2019, after several artillery fires near her village, Win Nu fled by boat with her son and two daughters and has not returned since.
In Sin Bawkaing, she earns a living by foraging bamboo shoots in the nearest village.
But with the blockade, they were no longer allowed to leave the camp, and Winnu and the hundreds of other families who lived there depended entirely on donations.
“We are in the worst state now,” she said. “We only eat rice, no other dishes. Under the lockdown, we can’t do anything now. We are now working hard to survive.”
*For security reasons, Aung Hla and Tun Tun have used aliases.