At the Taung Paw camp outside of Myebon town, hundreds of tents are clumped together on a dirt plain. Over 3,600 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) live at this camp, located in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State. They fled here in late October last year, when fighting between Buddhists and Muslims erupted in Rakhine for the second time in 2012. Dozens were killed in the violence that pitted neighbour against neighbour, thousands of homes and buildings were burned, and tens of thousands of people fled in panic.
There are now up to 140,000 displaced persons in Rakhine State, both Muslim and Buddhist. They are living in camps like Taung Paw in Myebon, or in tents among the houses that escaped destruction, or with friends and relatives among host communities.
Very few of the Muslim IDPs in Rakhine have returned home since June – mainly because they have no home to return to and fear going back to a hostile environment. Movement restrictions and nightly curfews around Rakhine state also make any movement difficult.
Dependent On Assistance
As a result, families have lost both their livelihoods and their homes. Without access to income opportunities, and without regular access to markets, IDPs have become almost entirely dependent on outside assistance, such as the monthly food rations that WFP has provided to the displaced since June.
U Kyaw Thein used to live in the Say Ban quarter of Myebon, one of five Muslim quarters that previously existed in the town. When the fighting began, he saw his neighbours’ houses flare up in smoke. He fled to the top of the hills with his family, where they anxiously wondered what would happen. “After a few days, the Government moved us here,” he said, gesturing to the rows of khaki-colored tents and tarpaulins that stretched into the distance.
The longyiand button-down shirt that U Kyaw Thein wears was donated by the Myanmar Red Cross. The Government provides drinking water. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) manages a weekly health clinic. And WFP provides a ration of rice, fortified vegetable oil, chickpeas, and iodized salt.
In the town of Myebon, nearly 300 Rakhines had also lost their homes in the violence. While they waited for a more permanent solution, they had been living in tents on an empty field near the monastery, and with friends and family in the community. In mid-May, eight households took shelter in the local primary school in anticipation for Cyclone Mahasen.
Ma Phyu Phyu Sein was one of the people temporarily staying at the primary school. Although she is able to walk freely through the town and find work opportunities, her husband has fallen ill and has been unable to work. Phyu Phyu Sein takes care of their four children with food provided by WFP and donations from her neighbours.
For the displaced in Myebon – and throughout Rakhine – the future remains uncertain. The Government has recently released the findings of an investigation into the Rakhine violence, but there is no clear plan for the displaced to return to their homes or resume their normal livelihoods. For Kyaw Thein and the 3,600 IDPs in Taung Paw, this means continued inactivity at the camp in Myebon, and continued dependence on outside assistance.
(See a video of scenes from Taung Paw camp earlier this year here.)
In the past month, the situation has improved somewhat, as UNHCR has built longhouses for the displaced communities to provide better protection against rain and wind. All of the Rakhine IDPs and most of the Muslim IDPs have already moved into the structures – a vast improvement during the rainy season. But with movement restrictions and no ability to resume their normal lives, the situation for IDPs seems unlikely to improve in the near future. Continued donor support is essential.
The Governments of Japan, Australia, the European Commission, the United States, and Switzerland are the top five donors to WFP’s Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation (PRRO 200299) in Myanmar. On behalf of people like U Kyaw Thein and Ma Phyu Phyu Sein, WFP would like to thank all of its donors for their generous support of WFP’s activities throughout the country. However, humanitarian needs have increased substantially in Myanmar over the past two years, and continued support is needed until durable solutions are identified. WFP requires US$39.2 million to cover its activities throughout Myanmar until June 2014.