News / Asia

Distrust Hinders Burma Cyclone Evacuation Effort

Internally displaced Rohingya people load rickshaws with children and belongings to leave their camp in Sittwe, northwestern Rakhine State, Burma, May 16, 2013.
Internally displaced Rohingya people load rickshaws with children and belongings to leave their camp in Sittwe, northwestern Rakhine State, Burma, May 16, 2013.
Daniel Schearf
— Authorities in Bangladesh and Burma are working to quickly move to safety hundreds of thousands of people still at risk from cyclone Mahasen.  The tropical storm hit Bangladesh and is expected to make landfall as early as Friday in western Rakhine state in Burma, where some people displaced from last year's sectarian violence have been reluctant to move. 

Hundreds of thousands of people were ordered to evacuate parts of southern Bangladesh as the cyclone brought heavy winds and rains to flood the area.

Although the storm weakened before coming ashore in Bangladesh, Burma is bracing for an expected landfall Friday in western Rakhine state where attention is focused on tens of thousands of people living in temporary relief camps.

Sectarian violence last year displaced 140,000 people into the camps, the vast majority of them ethnic Rohingya Muslims.

The United Nations says about 70,000 are especially at risk, living in low-lying areas or in makeshift shelters and tents.

  • A vehicle moves internally displaced Rohingya to a safer place ahead of Cyclone Mahasen at a camp outside of Sittwe, Burma, May 16, 2013.
  • Internally displaced Rohingyas wait on a truck to leave their camp Sittwe, Burma, May 16, 2013.
  • Internally displaced Rohingya people take shelter in a building ahead of the arrival of Cyclone Mahasen, in Sittwe, northwestern Rakhine State, Burma, May 15, 2013.
  • Soldiers wait to help people move to safe location at a Rohingya internally displaced person camp outside of Sittwe, Burma, May 15, 2013.
  • An internally displaced Rohingya woman walks carrying a sibling in a makeshift camp in Sittwe, Burma, May 14, 2013.
  • Internally displaced Rohingya boys shiver in rain in a makeshift camp for Rohingya people in Sittwe, Burma, May 14, 2013.
  • Novice Buddhist monks play in the sea in Sittwe, Burma ahead of the arrival of Cyclone Mahasen, May 14, 2013.
  • Thandawli villagers stand by the bank of a river in a camp for Rohingya internally displaced persons outside Sittwe, Burma, May 14, 2013.
  • A Rakhine Buddhist woman and her child take in a monastery because of the arrival of the Cyclone Mahasen, Sittwe, Burma, May 14, 2013.
  • Lightning is seen over the Sule pagoda and the former city hall of Rangoon, Burma, May 13, 2013.

Authorities and international aid groups are relocating the IDPs to safer shelters.

Vivian Tan, the regional spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, said at least 35,000 people were moved as of Wednesday but some were resisting.

"Some did not like the relocation sites designated by the government.  Some were afraid that they would lose their spots in the existing IDP camps," Tan explained.  "Some were worried they may be asked to go back to their villages, that they fled last year, after the storm.  So, there's a number of concerns and we're trying to get as much reassurances from the government that people will be allowed to go back to the IDP camps after the storm passes."

There is little trust between the Rohingya and authorities after clashes last year with ethnic Rakhine Buddhists left 200 dead and thousands of homes burned to the ground.

The Rohingya bore the brunt of the violence and have been living in segregated camps ever since.  Human Rights Watch accused authorities of fomenting ethnic cleansing, a charge they deny.

Burma does not recognize the Rohingya as citizens or an ethnic group and considers them illegal migrants from Bangladesh, despite many having lived in Burma for generations.

Nonetheless, President's Office Minister Aung Min told reporters in Rangoon Wednesday all would receive help with no discrimination between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya.

He said they cannot stop disaster if the cyclone hits.  But, it is their duty to do as much as possible to prevent damage and reduce the death toll.  He said preparation work will be done without distinguishing race and religion.  He added that all their actions will be transparent and they will also receive advice from international organizations.

Aung Min said international humanitarian organizations that have been helping at IDP camps are ready to provide cyclone aid as needed.

The government's response is in stark contrast with the previous military government's handling of the last cyclone in 2008.

Cyclone Nargis swept across the Irrawaddy delta, southwest of Rangoon, killing at least 130,000 people.  Authorities made few preparations and initially refused outside help, which critics say contributed to the death toll.

International aid and rights groups have for months been warning the camps in Rakhine state were not built to deal with storms that come during the rainy season.

The UN's Tan acknowledges Burmese authorities could have started evacuations sooner and worked faster.  But, she said the change in attitude to foreign help is significant and they are working well with international organizations, including the United Nations.

"The international community and humanitarian agencies are doing whatever we can at the moment.  But, we certainly need to stay engaged because this is just the beginning of several months of rains that will hit the region," Tan noted. "So, things aren't going to get better.  We need to stay engaged to make sure that shelters are built, that people are not forgotten once this cyclone passes."

Since last year's unrest, international aid groups in Rakhine say Buddhist extremists have prevented access to some camps and threatened their staff.

Despite concerns about helping relocate Rohingya ahead of the cyclone, Tan said they have not heard of any problems for aid groups.

The UNHCR has tents and plastic sheets in Rakhine and will continue building shelters in safer locations after the storm clears.  

Tan said the UN's World Food Program has about one month's supply of food in the area and Burma's Ministry of Health has prepositioned staff and medicine, though she could not say if their numbers were adequate.

You May Like

Computer Crash Halts US Visa, Passport Operation

Problems with database have resulted in extensive backlog of applications, affected State Department's consular offices all over the world More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

World Bank: Boko Haram Stalls African Aid Projects

Islamist group’s terrorism sets back agriculture, health efforts in Cameroon, Chad and Nigeria More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: بابل from: http://www.babilnet.net/v
May 16, 2013 9:14 AM
Hurricanes cause a lot of destruction and the weather conditions and natural causes related to nature

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnelsi
X
July 24, 2014 4:42 AM
The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video MH17's 'Black Boxes' Could Reveal Crash Details

The government of Malaysia now has custody of the cockpit voice and flight data recorders from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was hit by a missile over Ukraine before crashing last week. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports, the so-called black boxes may hold information about the final minutes of the flight.
Video

Video Living in the Shadows Panel Discussion

Following a screening of the new VOA documentary, "AIDS - Living in the Shadows," at the World AIDS conference in Melbourne, a panel discussed the film and how to combat the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid