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Over 100,000 Muslim Rohingya living in Myanmar ‘open-air prisons’ as crisis deepens: HRW

The Rohingya do not have access to clean water and food, HRW reports [Getty]

Date of publication: 9 October, 2020

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Myanmar's Rohingya are living in 'squalid and inhumane' conditions, according to rights groups.


Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya in Myanmar are living in inhumane "open air prisons" as the Rakhine state continues to be a place of "arbitrary and indefinite" detention for the Muslim minority, Human Rights Watch revealed in a new report released on Friday.

Over 130,000 Rohingya Muslims are in refugee camps in Myanma's Rakhine state and living under impossible conditions.

"The first thing you notice when you reach the camps is the stomach-churning stench," one UN official quoted in the report said of her visit to the camps. "Parts of the camps are literally cesspools. Shelters teeter on stilts above garbage and excrement... In one camp, the pond where people draw water from is separated by a low mud wall from the sewage."

Such conditions have been directly linked to increased morbidity and mortality in the camps, and the Rohingya face higher rates of malnutrition, waterborne illnesses, and child and maternal deaths than their Rakhine neighbours.

"The Myanmar government has interned 130,000 Rohingya in inhuman conditions for eight years, cut off from their homes, land, and livelihoods, with little hope that things will improve," said Shayna Bauchner, author of the 169-page report published Thursday.

"The camp is not a liveable place for us," a Rohingya man was quoted as saying in the report.

Crimes against humanity

Myanmar's government and military has been accused by HRW of subjecting the majority Muslim Rohingya population "to a wide range of crimes against humanity, including murder, torture, and deportation from the country during periods of extensive violence in 2012, 2016, and 2017."

The government, the rights group contends, imposes apartheid-like measures which divide the population along racial lines and force its Rohingya-majority to live in "ghettos".

Yangon continues to make empty assurances that it will close the camps in central Rakhine, however after eight years of detention the Rohingya have little hope.

"How can we hope for the future?" Ali Khan, who lives in a camp in Kyauktaw said.

"The local authorities could help us if they wanted things to improve, but they only neglect us," he added.

"I think they won’t solve this problem," a Rohingya woman who had escaped Rakhine State said of the government’s plan to close the camps.

"I think the system is permanent. A long time ago they took our money. Nothing will change. It is only words."

Camp closures ‘farce’

In November last year, the government revealed that it intended to improve the “closure process” o the camps, however a UN official called the strategy development a "smokescreen" and a UN analysis concluded:

"The implementation of the strategy, in of itself, will unlikely resolve the fundamental issues that led to the displacement crisis in Rakhine state."

First-hand accounts of Rohingya Muslims in three camps labelled “closed” report no increase in freedom of movement or access to basic services.

"Nothing has changed," a Rohingya man living in one of the "closed" camps said.

"We have had individual shelters since August 2018, but everything else has stayed the same. We don’t have freedom of movement, and still have major challenges for livelihood, income, and health."

An internal UN discussion note from September 2018 asserted that despite the humanitarian community’s efforts, "the only scenario that is unfolding before our eyes is the implementation of a policy of apartheid with the permanent segregation of all Muslims, the vast majority of whom are stateless Rohingya, in central Rakhine."

Most Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh from the central Rakhine camps still have family living there and have heard about the tightening restrictions. "My mum said the situation is worsening there day by day," said Abdul Kadar, whose mother lives in Thae Chaung camp. "Once she tried to flee to Bangladesh but the boat engine died, so she had to turn back."

"We know that thousands of Rohingya back in Myanmar are still in detention camps," said a Rohingya refugee a few days before the August 2019 repatriation attempt was set to start.

"If those people are released and return to their villages, then we’ll know it’s safe to return and we’ll go back home."

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