A GROUP of people huddle quietly on the cold earthen floor of the flooded compound of the monastery. A baby sleeps nearby on a bamboo mat, not far from where its mother is sitting, a blunt dah lying within her reach. A man sitting at the end of the corridor to the pagoda’s ordination hall shoulders a homemade spear and stares off into the distance as the rain falls steadily.
This is the grim reality of life in Sittwe’s 17 refugee camps, which as of June 14 housed 5960 Rakhine and 18,886 Rohingya – also known as Bengali Muslims – displaced by recent violence.
Official figures on June 14 put the number of displaced at almost 32,000 in 37 camps in Rakhine Stat, but more recent estimates put the number at almost 50,000.
Officials and camp managers say more supplies of food and clothing are needed to support those displaced by the fighting.
“Most refugees are women and children. They arrived here because they were homeless. They are still fearful, especially at night. They want the local authorities to provide security but they have declined so the men here have to look after security instead,” U Hla Maung, a member of the board of trustees for Mahazeya Theikdi Ahdeikhtan Theindawgyi in Sittwe’s Mingan Ward, told The Myanmar Times on June 13.
The ordination hall at the pagoda, which features an assortment of Buddha images and nat shrines, has been converted into a storeroom for goods provided for the 1200 or so people from Nar Zi, Danyawaddy and Ywatharyar wards who have sought refuge there. Local social organisations and private companies wereproviding food, but it was barely enough to cope with demand.
“[The displaced people] will still need some more rice, medicine and clothing as well as long-term support,” U Hla Maung said.
One man in the Mahazeya Theikdi Ahdeikhtan Theindawgyi camp, who leant on a stick because of an injury to his leg, said clothing, medicine and rice were most needed.
“Our factory housing in ward No 1 had more than 200 houses. The Bengalis burnt down everything, including five monasteries. My injury was sustained because I was hit by a piece of broken glass catapulted by the Bengalis. I was transferred here after I was struck,” he said.
The total number of affected is likely to be significantly higher, as many Rakhine have taken refuge with friends rather than camps.
“Rakhine friends are helping as much as they can. But as we have 10 people in our family the two tins of rice (one tin of rice is enough for two people for one meal) we are getting is not enough. Rice and other relief goods should be sent promptly to all the needy people,” said U Nitarshay, a Hindu resident of Marammargyi ward in Sittwe whose house was destroyed in the violence.
In Sinku Lan Monastery in Sinku Ward, Sittwe, a social organisation established by Shwezedi Monaster, Shwegaruna Group, has been working to provide medical care to refugees.
“The refugees started arriving June 8. There are more than 580 people [as of June 15]. They are from Byainephyu village and Satyoekya village of the other bank [of Kaladan River] and Konetan Ward of Sittwe – all these areas were attacked by arsonists. For food, the wards nearby offered rice at first but this was only a short term solution. Now organisations and other benefactors are contributing. For healthcare, Shwegaruna Group contributed their services,” said the Venerable Bhandanda Kheymeindarsara, the abbot of the monastery.
“For security at night, people from the ward are taking responsibility. This has troubled both Rakhine and Bengalis. I think quick action by the government is needed to help solve the problems of the refugees. Everything that is happening now is related to the misdeeds in Taunggok.”
But he said he couldn’t see how Rohingya and Rakhine could continue to live side-by-side as they had done in the past.
“If Bengalis are put in their former place, their may be bad consequences. For instance, in Konetan ward, the houses of the Rakhine nationals are close to the Bengalis. When they are resettled, they should be separated. I don’t think there is any place in Sittwe for Bengalis.”
While there appears little immediate chance of violence resuming, a security presence is required at the camps to give refugees peace of mind, many sources agreed.
“Most of refugees arrived here after braving many great hardships. They need food, clothing, shelter and healthcare. The state government should also deploy security to make people feel secure at night. We asked them to do it but they said they couldn’t. Rather than provide security for each camp and road, they guard an area as a whole,” said a monk in charge of one camp.
U Win Myaing, the head of the committee, said as well as money and rice it had also received fuel to mill more rice for the camps. He said more goods were expected to arrive to Sittwe over the last week.