Muslims blocked from Rakhine township hospitals, says MSF | Asia Pacific

Muslims blocked from Rakhine township hospitals, says MSF

Muslims blocked from Rakhine township hospitals, says MSF

Updated 22 October 2013, 9:02 AEDT

In Myanmar's troubled Rakhine state, minority Muslims live under apartheid-like conditions, housed in temporary camps and segregated from the majority Buddhist population.

This has led to a health care crisis as Muslims are subject to strict movement restrictions and local hospitals are known to refuse to treat them.

Presenter:Jared Ferrie

Speaker: Vickie Hawkins, the deputy head of mission, Medecines Sans Frontiers; Myint Aung, villager

FERRIE: In townships around the Rakhine capital of Sittwe, Muslims who need serious medical attention must wait hours and even days before being able to visit the one hospital that will treat them. They are not allowed to visit local hospitals. Instead they must travel to Sittwe General Hospital, which has a special ward for Muslims.

But Muslims are not allowed to travel freely, so aid agencies like Medecines Sans Frontiers must negotiate with local authorities to transport each individual. This can create delays and it's already costed lives, says Vickie Hawkins, the deputy head of mission.

HAWKINS: teams have returned to the field the following day to find the patient has died overnight.

FERRIE: Part of the reason township hospitals won't treat Muslims is that medical staff are afraid.

HAWKINS: We do know of instances where patients have attempted to get into township hospitals or township hospitals have attempted to treat Muslim patients and have been threatened on the basis of it.

FERRIE: Rakhine state has been wracked by clashes between Muslims and Buddhists that first broke out in June last year, and have left more than 140,000 homeless. Most of the displaced are Muslims.

HAWKINS: Important to note that those were communities that had access to the public health care system prior to the violence, but now due to movement restrictions no longer have that access.

FERRIE: The health crisis currently affects only townships around Sittwe, which saw the worst clashes.Mobs started forming in the main town of Thandwe and attacked Muslims in five villages. Police were dispatched but they weren't always successful in protecting the Muslims, according to Myint Aung whose home in Tha Phyu Chai village was burnt to the ground.

MYINT AUNG: Soldier gave the order all of the Muslim have to stay in their home, they will take the action for them, nobody should go out. So all of them, they are hidden in their home.

After that Buddhist mob burnt their houses and destroyed their houses.

FERRIE: Five Muslims were killed in the violence, including an elderly couple in Tha Phyu Chiang who were slashed with machetes.

MYINT AUNG: The man is over 80 years old and the woman over 90 years old. They couldn't run away.

FERRIE: Muslims injured in the violence in Thandwe did receive treatment in township hospitals. But MSF's Victoria Hawkins is worried that they could be denied health care in the future if violence continues.

HAWKINS:: What I would be very concerned about is if health facilities start to come in for the same kind of intimidation or abuse as they do in the areas around Sittwe. The government needs to prevent that from happening.

FERRIE: The government is worried too about the spread of violence in Rakhine. As Muslim homes were burning in Thandwe earlier this month, President Thein Sein visited several communities and pleaded with Buddhist and Muslim leaders to keep the peace.

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