Doctors Without Borders Ejected From Myanmar

Doctors Without BordersDoctors Without Borders, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that provides medical care worldwide, has been ejected from Myanmar. The Myanmar government suspended the license of Doctors Without Borders in late February because of their work with the Rohingya Muslim minority. Myanmar is a country of 52 million in Southeast Asia formerly known as Burma.

Rakhine is one of Myanmar’s poorest regions, and is home to 1 million Rohingya Muslims. Doctors Without Borders has been in Rakhine for nearly 20 years, providing maternal and child health services, and malaria and tuberculosis care for about 750,000 people, mostly Rohingya around Rakhine State.

Doctors Without Borders is the main provider of HIV drugs, supplying more than 30,000 patients with medication unavailable through the government. Rakhine now has no basic medical services.

There are five permanent Doctors Without Borders clinics and 30 mobile ones throughout Rakhine State. About 20 percent of Rakhine children are malnourished, and an intensive feeding center part of what was shut down when the license was suspended.

The NGO offers the best and sometimes only care for the sickest patients in 15 camps for displaced people in Rakhine State. Travel outside the camps to local Buddhist-run hospitals is both dangerous and expensive. Since Doctors Without Borders was ejected from Myanmar two weeks ago, estimates show about 150 people have died.

Doctors Without Borders, also known as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), says they work worldwide in areas of the greatest need. They have been delivering aid since 1971 in 60 countries worldwide and received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1999.

The Myanmar government targeted Doctors Without Borders after the group treated 22 Muslims following a conflict by civilians and Rakhine security officers in Du Chee Yar Tan in January. 40 people were killed in that skirmish, but the government denies any evidence of the deaths. Since 2012, hundreds have been killed in Rakhine State and more than 140,000 left homeless in outbreaks of communal violence.

Presidential spokesman Ye Htut said Doctors Without Borders’ contract in Rakhine State would not be extended because it hired “Bengalis,” which is what the government calls the Rohingya. He accused the group of favoring Rohingya Muslims, and refusing care for other Rakhine people.

Doctors Without Borders says their work has been hampered by increasing threats and intimidation from Rakhine Buddhists, and a lack of government support. They have been in Rohingya since 1994, and say they treat regardless of ethnicity.

Htut told 7 Day Newspaper that Doctors Without Borders’ presence has more negative impact than benefit, and its work heightens tensions and jeopardizes peace and tranquility in the region.

Myanmar is predominantly Buddhist with a population of 60 million. They were recently freed of military rule, and since then ethnic tensions have increased in Rakhine State, with conflicts between Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists. Up to 280 have been killed and tens of thousands have fled, mostly Rohingya. Tensions are heightened by the worldwide perception that global Muslim power is great and it is up to the government to end the violence.

The Rohingya are a Muslim minority in Myanmar that the United Nations defines as one of most persecuted minorities in the world.

Although the Rohingya have been living in Myanmar for generations the government says they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. They are denied citizenship and subjected to systematic and discriminatory policies that limit their freedom of movement, access to health care, and right to worship and have children. The Myanmar government does not recognize the Rohingya as a legitimate ethnic minority.

Since Doctors Without Borders was ejected from Myanmar, estimates show about 150 have died. There is no time frame on when their license will be reinstated.

By Beth A. Balen

Doctors Without Borders
NY Times