Junta bans aid groups from 6 townships in Myanmar’s Rakhine state

Tens of thousands of war refugees depend on the NGOs for food and supplies.

Myanmar’s junta has banned domestic and international NGOs operating humanitarian programs, including United Nations relief agencies, from traveling to six townships of Rakhine state, aid workers said Friday.

A staffer with an international NGO, who declined to be named for security reasons, told RFA Burmese that the organization had received a letter from the Rakhine Ministry of Security and Border Affairs on Thursday explaining that it had been immediately barred from traveling to the townships of Buthidaung, Maungdaw, Rathedaung, Mrauk-U, Minbya and Myebon.

“The letter said permission to travel to the six townships in Rakhine is restricted, but it didn’t say for how long,” the staffer said.

“Usually they would give some explanation, such as ‘for security reasons,’ but this letter didn’t say why … we are not allowed to distribute basic food items anymore. This includes U.N. agencies, NGOs and all INGOs (international NGOs).”

U.N. agencies and international humanitarian organizations operating in the region were not immediately reachable by RFA for comment and no public statements had been issued in reaction to the order by the time of publishing. Some international NGOs confirmed the travel ban to RFA, but asked that their organizations not be named, citing fear of repercussions from junta authorities.

Hundreds of refugees who have fled recent fighting between the military and the ethnic insurgent Arakan Army are living in camps in the six townships and depend largely on the assistance of the International Committee of the Red Cross, World Food Program, and other international organizations.

Soe Naing, who oversees the Tein Nyo Refugee Camp in Mrauk-U, told RFA that the ban would cause significant difficulties for people sheltering there, as they have few other sources of aid and the military regime has not provided them with any assistance.

“We rely mainly on ICRC support in our camp,” he said. “The Department of Resettlement and Rehabilitation hasn’t given us any support for more than six months, saying that it has not received permission from higher-level authorities. These refugees are already in a dire situation and blocking aid will make the situation far worse.”

More than 900 families comprising more than 4,000 people are currently living in Tein Nyo refugee camp, he said.

Meanwhile, the junta has yet to approve the distribution of more than 55,000 bags of rice for Rakhine war victims donated in November 2021 by Yohei Sasakawa, the chairman of Japan’s Nippon Foundation and the Japanese government's special representative for national reconciliation in Myanmar, sources said.

Attempts by RFA to contact the junta spokesman for Rakhine state for comment went unanswered Friday.

More than 40,000 refugees displaced by fighting between the military and the Arakan Army from 2019 to 2020 are still living in 143 refugee camps in Rakhine, while another 10,000 have been displaced from Rathedaung, Mrauk-U, Maungdaw and neighboring areas since the resumption of fighting in July.

Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.