CAIRO - Tightening the noose around Rohingya Muslims, radical Buddhist groups in Burma have been preventing aid groups from offering help to injured Muslims in refugee camps.
I've never experienced this degree of intolerance, Joe Belliveau, the operations manager for Doctors Without Borders, told The New York Times on Tuesday, November 6.What we really need is for people to understand that giving medical aid is not a political act.
Belliveau's international medical charity was one of aid groups which rushed to the western Rakhine State to aid thousands of Rohingya Muslims who fled a new bout of ethnic violence.
But doctors complained that they were being threatened by radical Buddhists against helping injured Muslims in refugee camps.
Doctors say that posters and pamphlets were distributed in Sittwe, the largest city in Rakhine, threatening aid workers who treat Muslims.
The threats had a direct impact on the aid workers, whose numbers dropped from around 300 to only a few dozen.
Our own staff are simply scared and unwilling to work after receiving direct threats, Belliveau said.
At least 84 people have been killed and 129 others injured in deadly clashes between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine since October 21.
The violence has displaced nearly 29,000 people, more than 97 percent of whom are Rohingya Muslims, according to the United Nations.
Many now live in camps, adding to 75,000 mostly Rohingya displaced in June after a previous explosion of sectarian violence killed at least 80 people.
Human rights groups have accused Burmese police and troops of disproportionate use of force and arrests of Rohingyas in the wake of the riots.
Human Rights Watch has accused Burmese security forces of targeting Rohingya Muslims with killing, rape and arrest following the unrest.
Warning of a deteriorating situation in Muslim refugee camps, aid workers have reported severe malnutrition and widespread malaria among children.
There's a huge group of people who have not been displaced but are cut off from health care, said Belliveau, the operations manager for Doctors Without Borders.
Described by the UN as one of the world's most persecuted minorities, Rohingya Muslims are facing a catalogue of discrimination in their homeland.
They have been denied citizenship rights since an amendment to the citizenship laws in 1982 and are treated as illegal immigrants in their own home.
The Burmese government as well as the Buddhist majority refuse to recognize the term "Rohingya", referring to them as "Bengalis".
Burma is about 90 percent Buddhist and the majority are ethnically Burman, but the remaining people are a diverse group of over 100 ethnic and religious minorities.
Treating Buddhism as the state de facto religion, the Buddhist Burman majority was singled out as the trustworthy pillar of national identity.
The latest bout of violence has raised concerns that the violence could spread to other parts of Burma, where Muslims make up about 4 percent of the population.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has reported the widespread deployment of Burmese security forces in Rakhine State, but also widespread fear there.Our staff spoke to displaced people who shared their fears of being attacked again if the troops leave, a spokesman for the office, Adrian Edwards, said in a press briefing.