Medecins Sans Frontieres' shock at Myanmar suspension

File photo: Rakhine state Rakhine state has been the site of outbreaks of violence targeting the Muslim Rohingya community

Related Stories

The aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres has expressed its shock at the order to cease operations in Myanmar.

It said it was deeply concerned about the tens of thousands of people it was treating, particularly for HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB.

A presidential spokesman alleged to the BBC that Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) was biased in favour of Rakhine's Muslim Rohingya minority.

MSF is one of the biggest providers of healthcare in Rakhine.

Start Quote

Since 2004, MSF has treated over 1,240,000 malaria patients in Rakhine state alone”

End Quote Medecins Sans Frontieres

It provides emergency assistance to tens of thousands of Rohingya people displaced by recent violence.

Rakhine's Rohingya are widely discriminated against in Myanmar, also known as Burma, where they are typically considered Bangladeshis and denied basic rights. There have several outbreaks of mass violence against them since June 2012.

Tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled their homes for temporary camps.

MSF said no other medical organisation in the country operated on a similar scale, and that its actions were always "guided by medical ethics and the principles of neutrality and impartiality".

A patient, right, receives medicine at a clinic for HIV and Tuberculosis patients, run by Medecins Sans Frontieres in Yangon in April 2013 Medecins Sans Frontieres treat tens of thousands of people in Myanmar

Analysis

Aid agencies in Rakhine state face a difficult choice. Keep quiet in a situation some have described as close to apartheid or speak out and risk infuriating the Buddhist majority.

Most have opted to keep their heads down, reasoning that their priority is to try and assist the most needy. Medecins Sans Frontieres have not, and consistently raise issues of access and the dire conditions in camps for displaced Rohingya.

With MSF already unpopular among Rakhine Buddhists, in January there was an incident which may have directly led to their suspension. A massacre is alleged to have taken place of Rohingya Muslims near the border with Bangladesh.

Two narratives quickly emerged, with the UN claiming that as many as 48 people may have died, while the Burmese authorities said there had been no casualties.

Then much to the annoyance of the government, MSF confirmed that their medics had treated 22 patients near the site of the alleged attack.

It suggested something serious had happened and may have been the final straw for MSF. Presidential spokesman Ye Htut told me their actions had clearly demonstrated their bias towards what he called the Bengalis.

The BBC's Jonah Fisher in Yangon, also known as Rangoon, says MSF is one of the few agencies providing treatment for Rohingya who would otherwise be turned away from clinics and hospitals.

The government says that MSF has prioritised the treatment of the Rohingya community over local Buddhists.

The final straw may well have been MSF's statement a month ago that they had treated people after an alleged massacre of Muslims by Buddhists near the border with Bangladesh, our correspondent says.

The government's own investigation found there had been no casualties, our correspondent adds.

The move comes days after another rights group said it had evidence of institutionalised local government discrimination against Rohingya.

Fortify Rights said it had obtained leaked government documents setting out what amounted to "state policies of persecution" in Rakhine state.

The Rohingya people are considered stateless and are rejected by both Burma and neighbouring Bangladesh.

MSF was founded in Paris, France, in 1971.

The non-profit, self-governed organisation "delivers emergency aid to people affected by armed conflict, epidemics, natural disasters and exclusion from healthcare", its website adds.

It says it is in discussions with the government of Myanmar about resuming operations.

More on This Story

Related Stories

From other news sites

* May require registration or subscription

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Asia stories

RSS

Features & Analysis

  • Cerro RicoSatanic mines

    Devil worship in the tunnels of the man-eating mountain


  • Nefertiti MenoeWar of words

    The woman who sparked a row over 'speaking white'


  • Oil pumpPump change

    What would ending the US oil export ban do to petrol prices?


  • Brazilian Scene, Ceara, in 1893Sir Snapshot

    19th Century Brazil seen through the eyes of an Englishman


Elsewhere on the BBC

  • SailingGame on

    BBC Capital discovers why certain sports seem to have a special appeal for those with deep pockets

Programmes

  • Prof Piot, the first person to indentify Ebola virusHARDtalk Watch

    Ebola expert warns travellers could spread the disease further if it is not contained

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.