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UN: Burma Should Address Long-Term Needs of Rohingya Muslims

Internally displaced Rohingya boys shiver in rain in a makeshift camp for Rohingya people in Sittwe, Burma, May 14, 2013.

VOA News
June 18, 2013
The United Nations
is urging Burma to address the citizenship status and other long-term needs of
minority Rohingya Muslims, tens of thousands of whom remain in refugee camps
following communal violence.
The U.N.
humanitarian relief agency said Tuesday 140,000 people remain displaced in
Burma’s western Rakhine state, a year after the Buddhist-Muslim clashes killed
about 200 people and left much of the region racially and religiously
The report said
increased humanitarian aid has addressed the immediate needs of the displaced
communities. It said food is now distributed regularly to those in need, about
3,000 latrines are functioning, and temporary shelter for over 71,000 people
has been built.
But the agency
cautioned that such measures are only temporary, warning that root causes of
the tensions must be addressed in order to restore lasting peace and harmony.
Specifically, it
called for the citizenship status of the 800,000 Muslims in Rakhine state to be
addressed. It said the “consequences of statelessness for Muslims in
Rakhine state continue to have a direct effect on fundamental human rights, and
the social and economic development” of Burma.
Though many
Rohingya have lived in Rakhine for decades, they are denied citizenship and
many other basic rights in Burma, where they are instead regarded as illegal
immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.
The Rohingya are
also subject to many other discriminatory government policies, such as restrictions
on movement and a two-child limit that is not in place for other members of
Burmese society.
The U.N. report on
Tuesday said restrictions of access and freedom of movement have “severely
affected employment, and health and education rights.” It said 20,000
primary school-aged displaced children have lost an entire school year, and
have no access to formal education.
Rights groups have
warned that Burma is in danger of creating a long-term state of religious
segregation if it does not take steps to resettle the Rohingya refugees. One
group, Human Rights Watch, recently said the Muslim population in the city of
Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state, is “completely segregated.”
Burmese officials,
who have prevented people from leaving the refugee camps, have suggested the
segregation is temporary and necessary to prevent further unrest in the area.
Although the
violence in Rakhine state has since calmed, sectarian clashes later spread to
other areas of Burma, where it has taken on an a more general, anti-Muslim
The unrest
threatens to undermine the political and economic reforms undertaken by Burmese
President Thein Sein.