UK to keep funding Rohingya camps in Myanmar as UN withholds support


The UK government will continue to fund Rohingya camps inside Myanmar though it is feared that doing so would entrenched “apartheid-like” conditions in the country. This is in contrast to the UN position of withholding support for the camps.

Internal briefing documents as well as interviews with UN and humanitarian agency officials in Myanmar showed the British government is maintaining a policy of providing aid and other support to displaced people living in camps in Myanmar’s Rakhine state that have been slated for closure since 2017.

The facilities have been criticised for being squalid, unsanitary and entrenching the segregation of Rohingya and other Muslim minorities, who in most cases are prevented from leaving.

The UN took a stand in June that they would withhold support “beyond life-saving assistance” to camps officially “closed” by the Myanmar government – many of which are in reality still operating as before – and others in the process of being closed, until the Rohingya and other minorities were given greater freedom of movement.

The UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) declined to explain its reasoning for not adopting the UN’s stronger stance but said it supported the same broad goals. “The UK supports the UN’s position that displaced people must have the freedom to move, seek out livelihoods and access services like health and education,” a spokeswoman said.

A senior humanitarian official in Myanmar said the unwillingness of a major donor such as the UK to back the UN’s stand would “completely undermine” efforts to present a united front to pressure the Myanmar government on the issue.

The UK’s position emerged as Myanmar’s highest civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, travelled to The Hague to offer the most high-profile defence yet of her country’s treatment of the Rohingya and other minorities. A filing to the Hague-based international court of justice last month accused Myanmar of committing crimes against humanity including genocide against the Rohingya and other groups.

More than 128,000 Rohingya and Kaman Muslims have been housed in camps in Rakhine state since fleeing their homes in a 2012 outburst of violence against their communities.

For the past six months the UN and its partner agencies have been preparing to reduce their activities and begin a gradual withdrawal of support from the camps.

Though the camps have been in the process of being closed for the past two years, internal UN assessments and accounts from humanitarian agencies on the ground have shown that conditions have barely changed.

In a briefing document produced by DfID in June, the department considered the new UN policy of cutting all but life-saving aid to these camps but said it would not adopt it. “We will provide aid according to need and without conditionality (regardless of government’s action or inaction, though we call for the government to take responsibility for all its people),” the note read.

The document argued that “generations are being lost” inside the camps and that health and educational support is necessary to stem the damage to those living in them. It adds that people in the camps should be consulted on the approach they think would be best.

Myanmar rejects allegations it is committing crimes against humanity in Rakhine state, and has initiated a domestic inquiry into the latest outbreak of mass violence against the Rohingya in the summer of 2017, which led to more than 700,000 people fleeing to neighbouring Bangladesh. (Source: The Guardian)