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Refugee lives in Myanmar

A boy’s stare: A small boy looks at foreign visitors to his village in Pauktaw, Rakhine State.

Earlier this month, Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, accompanied by some of the ministry’s officials, toured several refugee camps in Rakhine State, in the western part of Myanmar, a Southeast Asian nation ravaged by communal conflict.

During the visit, the foreign minister was accompanied by Myanmarese Minister of Border Affairs Thein Htay. 

Marty had the chance to directly hear the voices of the refugees that were displaced during conflict between the Rakhine and Rohingya ethnic groups. First breaking out in May 2012, the conflict has witnessed the destruction of 1,325 houses belonging to the Rakhine and 9,364 houses of the Muslim Rohingya, according to data as of Jan. 4.

Recurrent conflict has forced over 8,500 Rakhines and 110,500 Rohingyas to flee their homes. Rakhines are now living in 31 camps while the Rohingyas are living in 35.

In a refugee camp in the town of Kyaukpaw, thousands of people live in makeshift tents provided by humanitarian organizations. In the town of Maungdaw, the Rohingyas live in fear following attacks by mobs that also burned down some of their homes. 

 Selling fruit: A boy from the Rakhine ethnic group flashes a smile as he sells watermelon in a refugee camp in Sittwe, Rakhine State.

Scores of foreign governments and organizations have offered help, with most giving humanitarian relief. Indonesia’s top diplomat took the opportunity to survey the humanitarian landscape by visiting the refugee camps.

The rare ministerial visit was aimed at collecting first-hand information on the needs of the refugees. The need for shelter was so obvious that the Indonesian foreign minister attempted to think beyond basic needs.

He pushed the government of Myanmar to facilitate a reconciliation program that would bring the Rakhine and Rohingya into peaceful conflict resolution.

“We’ve seen ourselves that there has been various humanitarian aid given. The government of Myanmar has also explained about its program to provide shelters and permanent housing. In addition to basic needs, they [the conflicting groups] need to build mutual trust,” Marty said after concluding the visit.

Marty emphasized that the communal conflict between the Rakhine and Rohingya ethnic groups was an internal problem of Myanmar. However, he said neighboring countries should take part in trying to find a solution in Myanmar, otherwise, it would affect others.

“It is impossible for us to build an ASEAN community if there’s instability in the region,” the minister added.

In addition, the Indonesian government will share its experience in handling communal conflict. “This problem [communal conflict] is not exclusive to Myanmar. Similar conflicts have also occurred in other countries. We will encourage Myanmar’s government and people to stay optimistic,” he said.

It remains to be seen whether Indonesia can help build peace in Myanmar.

Families and face paint: Wearing thanaka (traditional cosmetics), a boy carries his younger sister in the Mangan relief camp in Sittwe.

Wherever they lay their tent: A family lives in a makeshift tent in a village in Pauktaw.

Witnesses: Children and young men gather outside a tent where their community leaders are speaking with Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa and Myanmarese Minister of Border Affairs Thein Htay in a refugee camp in the town of Kyaukpaw.

— Photos By JP/Kurniawan Hari