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    Cyclone Could Threaten Thousands of Myanmar Refugees

    Photos created by kalle Bergbom Facebook
    Thomas Fuller
    May 11, 2013
    BANGKOK — A tropical cyclone in the Andaman Sea is headed
    close to an area in Myanmar where tens of thousands of victims of ethnic and
    religious violence are living in makeshift camps, adding urgency to fears of
    what the United Nations has termed a looming “humanitarian catastrophe” for
    displaced families.

    Of the more than 130,000 people forced to flee their homes
    in rioting between Buddhists and Muslims over the last year in western Myanmar,
    around half are living in low-lying camps near the sea, the United Nations
    Human rights organizations have issued repeated warnings
    that the displaced people are at risk of disease and hunger during the rainy
    season, which begins this month and continues until around September.
    “We’re definitely very concerned,” said Vivian Tan, a
    spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the United
    Nations refugee agency. “We are working around the clock, trying to get as many
    people out of low-lying areas and into decent shelters.”
    Projections on Saturday by the United States Navy Marine
    Meteorology Division estimated that the cyclone would reach land around
    Wednesday. According to the same calculations, the center of the storm will be
    just south of Chittagong, a major city in Bangladesh, and rain and strong winds
    would also hit areas in Myanmar’s Rakhine State where the camps are.
    Although the storm could change direction or lessen in
    intensity, aid groups say even heavy rains would create very difficult
    conditions for the displaced families who are camped out in muddy fields
    vulnerable to tidal surges. Myanmar is prone to violent tropical storms. A
    cyclone in 2008 killed more than 150,000 people in the country’s Irrawaddy
    river delta. Another storm in 2010 in western Myanmar, in roughly the same areas
    as those under threat now, displaced tens of thousands of people and killed
    more than 100.
    The vast majority of those displaced by religious violence
    in western Myanmar are Muslims who call themselves Rohingya, a group not
    recognized by the country’s government and denied citizenship.
    Continued deep hostility toward the Rohingya by the local
    Buddhist population has prevented their return to their homes or resettlement
    in other areas. The Irrawaddy, an online news site, reported last week that the
    Rakhine State government in April backed down from a plan to resettle Muslims
    after Buddhist villagers objected. Aid groups say they have been hindered from
    delivering aid because of threats by Buddhists.
    Although a court on Tuesday sentenced 10 Buddhist men to prison
    terms for destruction of property during the riots, most of the perpetrators of
    the violence in Western Myanmar, which left at least 167 people dead, remain
    free, human rights organizations say. Scores more people were killed in
    Muslim-Buddhist violence in March.