Photo Credit: Nora Rowley
Local organizations have provided food, clothing, medicine, and shelter to displaced Arakan populations, largely supported by domestic contributions, but Rohingya populations have been less fortunate. Human Rights Watch spoke to Rohingya in Sittwe who had been living in hiding for several weeks, fearing they would face imminent attack from local Arakan if they ventured out in public. Their access to markets, food, and work remain limited because of the dangers of venturing into public spaces.
Other Rohingya have been living in makeshift camps overseen by the army, in the jungle, or surviving in home-stay situations, seeking shelter in some of the last standing Muslim neighborhoods in Sittwe. Their local movements are restricted by the Burmese army, ostensibly for their own protection, but many still lack adequate aid and the physical conditions of the internally displaced person (IDP) settlements are degenerating under the strain of overcrowding and monsoon rains.
Some Rohingya in displacement camps told Human Rights Watch that some Burmese soldiers had shown great compassion and gone to the market on their behalf to purchase rice and other necessities, but that their willingness to do so has since stopped. The soldiers’ refusal to informally help Rohingya buy food correlates with a local campaign by Arakan Buddhist monks—the most revered members of local Arakan society—who have distributed pamphlets advocating for separation of the communities and imploring the Arakan people to exclude Muslims in every way. “They are eating our rice and staying near our houses,” the author of one pamphlet told Human Rights Watch. “So we will separate. We need to protect the Arakan people.... We don’t want any connection to the Muslim people at all.”
While all security forces operating in Arakan State have been implicated in serious human rights violations, the army at times has taken positive action. In the early days of the violence, the army’s presence in Sittwe had a calming effect and was welcomed by both communities. Human Rights Watch observed Burmese army units in Sittwe playing a constructive role in stemming violence in late June by guarding groups of displaced Rohingya and making public calls for residents to disarm. Human Rights Watch also witnessed the army escorting Rohingya through the state capital in late June to collect personal belongings from their homes and market stalls in the city before returning to displaced person sites, though we were unable to determine whether this was done as part of normal duties or for payment.