Fourteen governments urged Myanmar on Friday to allow a full resumption of aid to a predominantly Muslim part of Rakhine state, as the United Nations described an apparent escalation of what activists have called a humanitarian crisis there.
The United Nations also reported Friday that thousands of people in the northern part of the state, a conflict-torn border area, have not had access to health services or food assistance for two months and that close to 22,000 Muslims had arrived in neighboring Bangladesh since Nov. 1.
The main ethnic group in the northern part of Rakhine is the Rohingya, a persecuted Muslim minority whose members are barred from citizenship in Myanmar, which is mostly Buddhist.
“As friends of Myanmar, we are deeply concerned by the humanitarian situation” in the northern part of Rakhine, the diplomatic missions of Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and the United States said in the statement Friday.
Aid is “desperately needed to address serious humanitarian needs, but also to begin to restore the confidence and hope that are essential to a restoration of peace and stability,” the statement added.
Rights activists say that Rakhine’s north has been unstable since Oct. 9, when nine police officers were killed in an attack on a border post there. The Myanmar government has largely sealed off the area to journalists, diplomats and aid workers as it conducts a counterinsurgency in Rohingya villages that has included rapes, arson attacks and the killing of unarmed civilians, activists say. Myanmar officials have denied any wrongdoing.
Kofi Annan, the former U.N. head, visited the northern areas of the state last weekend as part of a government-appointed commission that is studying conditions there.
“We have been given the assurance that humanitarian assistance is allowed access and trust that all communities in need will receive the assistance they require,” Annan told reporters in Yangon on Tuesday.
But Pierre Péron, a spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said in a statement Friday that only about 20,000 of the more than 150,000 people who were receiving food, cash or nutrition assistance in northern Rakhine before Oct. 9 had received any since. He said the aid shortfall was the result of recent “movement restrictions.”
Most people who live outside the area’s main population centers, including 7,600 pregnant women, have not had access to primary health care services or emergency referrals, Péron said in the statement.