The United Nations is threatening to withdraw the majority of its assistance from Myanmar’s Rakhine state, the main site of its conflict with the Rohingya Muslim ethnic minority. UN officials say the government has created a de-facto apartheid state by keeping Rohingya Muslims, who experienced genocidal violence at the hands of state forces two years ago, in resettlement camps, according to the Guardian.
These camps for internally displaced people (IDPs) in Rakhine state were first created in 2012, when government forces destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes belonging to Kaman Muslims and Rohingya Muslims, an ethnic minority that has faced decades of oppression in the country. Since then the UN has worked to support these marginalized communities in the camps.
The government of Myanmar said it would begin closing the camps in 2017, but its alternate plan has been to build new camps in a nearby area, the Guardian notes.
A letter of blistering criticism from UN resident coordinator Knut Ostby to Myanmar officials, obtained by the Guardian, says the UN is at risk of becoming complicit in the creating of an “apartheid state” by continuing to provide financial and service-based assistance in the area due to the government's policies. The letter demands that fundamental changes be made, and suggests the UN will only provide “life-saving support” to avoid legitimizing apartheid policies until these changes are seen.
The UN says that the camps lack access to basic services, and that people living in them are denied freedom of movement with virtually no “livelihood opportunities.”
“The only scenario that is unfolding before our eyes is the implementation of a policy of apartheid with the permanent segregation of all Muslims, the vast majority of whom are stateless Rohingya, in central Rakhine,” a 2018 UN document states, according to the Guardian.
“The government’s current strategy would essentially formalise and entrench a system of segregation that would perpetuate human rights violations for years to come,” the document continues.
In recent years, the plight of the Rohingya has intensified, and the world has begun to condemn the government’s long-standing, discriminatory policies.
In 2017, more than 800,000 Rohingya were expelled to neighboring Bangladesh during an attack by government forces that the UN described as “genocide.” Villages were burned down and innocent civilians were slaughtered, maimed, and raped in what the government argued was a crackdown on “terrorism.”
Since then, the UN has tried to coordinate the repatriation of Rohingya refugees to Rakhine state, but the Myanmar government has largely failed to cooperate in good faith.
In Bangladesh, Rohingya refugees continue to face many of the problems found in the camps of Rakhine state — unsanitary and cramped conditions, lack of freedom of movement and employment opportunities, and few legal rights.
As a result, repatriation efforts could be stalled indefinitely, until safe and long-term solutions are developed in Myanmar.
Other human rights workers in the region say that Rakhine state has long had an apartheid system.
“Rakhine has been an apartheid state for years … The international community remains paralysed,” Laura Haigh, Amnesty International’s Myanmar Researcher, told the Guardian.
“The status quo cannot continue, and unless we see concrete progress towards restoring Rohingya rights, those providing support or assistance in Rakhine — aid agencies, donor states, or others — risks being complicit in the state’s enforced segregation and crimes against humanity,” she added.