'Calculated' food shortages starving Rohingya out of Myanmar, rights group says

'Calculated' food shortages starving Rohingya out of Myanmar, rights group says

A human rights organisation says the Myanmar army and Government are deliberately starving Rohingya Muslims to force them to flee to Bangladesh.

More than half a million Rohinygas have already escaped across the border and thousands continue to arrive every day.

"One of the main reasons right now why they decided to flee is food, they don't have food any more," Kyaw Win, the executive director of the Burma Human Rights Network (BHRN), told the ABC.

"If they remain there they are going to die."

The Burma Human Rights Network uses the former name for Myanmar.

The BHRN released a statement citing specific villages in northern Rakhine State that have been cut off from food aid and quoting those affected.

"Lots of people have fled from our village because of starvation," a Rohingya resident of Thayet Kin Manu village in Buthidaung township said, according to the BHRN report.

"Before we received assistance from WFP [World Food Program] but now we receive from no organisation," said the un-named villager, according to BHRN.

Northern Rakhine state is off-limits to media — except for carefully controlled Government tours — so the ABC cannot independently verify the quotes or information.

The Myanmar Government has been contacted for comment.

The BHRN report said other villages have received one-off donations of food from the Myanmar army but that only lasts a few days.

"This is a very calculated strategy of the Burmese Government — they are trying to show that they are donating food to them, but who blocked this food, who blocked the aid agencies to supply them food, this is the same Burmese Government and the military," Kyaw Win said.

Severe food shortages have been reported by other groups monitoring the situation.

"Amnesty International has received credible reports that fear of starvation, as well as the attacks by the military, is driving more people from their homes," Amnesty said in a statement this week.

"Many Rohingya are stranded in villages with little or no access to food.

"The situation is made all the worse by the severe restrictions Myanmar has imposed on aid groups in northern Rakhine State."

Child malnutrition, even before August attack

Even before the current crisis, Myanmar's Rakhine state was already desperately poor, with previous outbursts of communal violence only making things worse.

Before the recent exodus, 1.1 million Rohingyas lived in Rakhine state, but were not considered citizens by the Myanmar Government and lived under apartheid-like conditions.

Earlier this year, the WFP was reaching about 250,000 people with food assistance across Rakhine state.

"We already had very high rates of malnutrition in children in these areas, malnutrition rates that were above emergency levels," Pierre Peron, spokesman in Myanmar for the United Nation's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said.

A coordinated attack by the Rohingya Arakan Salvation Army against 30 Border Guard Police posts on August 25 sparked a "scorched earth" campaign of killings, rape and arson by security forces and vigilantes, driving Rohingyas away.

Tens of thousands of people from other communities — including Rakhine Buddhists, Hindus and minority groups — have also been effected by the violence.

The Myanmar Government — including the office of de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi — claimed the discovery of WFP-branded high-energy biscuits at an alleged militant training camp showed collusion with Rohingya insurgents.

At the time, the WFP noted its concern at any misuse of food aid and asked for more details, which were not provided by the Myanmar Government.

Gov't restrictions leave tens of thousands without food aid

Since August, the WFP has not been able to reach 110,000 people in northern Rakhine State.

"WFP's aid activities in Rakhine State of Myanmar have been severely disrupted…the main challenge is humanitarian access," the organisation's communications officer Silke Buhr said.

In central Rakhine state, about 50,000 people missed out on their August food rations, but assistance has since increased and in September WFP delivered food to 73,000 people, Ms Buhr said.

Many Rohingyas in central Rakhine state live in camps after being displaced by previous violence.

But hostility towards aid workers and official travel restrictions have made it impossible to fully assess people's needs in the north.

"What we do know is that people's freedom of movement is restricted, people are not able to access markets, people are not able to go to the fields to harvest their crops, fisherman are not allowed to go fishing," Pierre Peron said.

The Red Cross has managed to get some access, and both international and local chapters are working with the Myanmar Government.

"We've been able to deliver to around 28,000 people [who] received assistance from the Red Cross and another 28,000 they got food as well," Cecillia Goin said, communications coordinator for the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Ms Goin said the remote locations of many villages and heavy rains are making aid delivery difficult.

"Of course we are extremely worried about the situation, the tension is still there… the Red Cross as a movement is trying to help as many people as possible [but] there are lots of challenges," she told the ABC.

"The geography is not helping and still the end of the monsoon season is not over, it makes us maybe to take more time to reach those in need."

Aid workers continue to ask the Myanmar Government for access to the conflict zone in the north.

"As humanitarian workers what we want to do is bring lifesaving aid to people who need it, it's really that simple," Mr Peron said.

"We only have one objective — it's to reduce suffering and save lives."