Sittwe – Food, water and medical help are in short supply at overcrowded camps in violence-hit western Burma that are “stretched beyond capacity”, the UN refugee agency said Tuesday.
Buddhist-Muslim bloodshed in Rakhine state has caused more than 28,000 people to flee their homes this month, UNHCR said in a statement.

“It is clearly urgent that law and order be restored to prevent further violence, and that access is facilitated so that aid can be provided to those in need,” the agency said.

The latest fighting, which erupted on October 21 and killed dozens, has seen whole neighbourhoods razed in a spate of arson attacks that United Nations staff reported had resulted in “widespread destruction and displacement”.

Thousands from mainly Muslim communities in Rakhine state have streamed towards camps already struggling to cope with the 75,000 people displaced by earlier clashes in June.

“With the new influx, these already overcrowded camps are being stretched beyond capacity in terms of space, shelter and basic supplies such as food and water,” UNHCR said.

“Food prices in the area have doubled and there are not enough doctors to treat the sick and wounded.”

More than 3,000 people have travelled in boats towards the state capital Sittwe in hopes of finding shelter at the camps on the coast near the outskirts of the city.

Many are now living on the barren shoreline, according to an AFP reporter who visited the scene.

“We have no home, no place to stay, no money — that’s how it is. The children are hungry from when the day starts and they cry,” said Ahpu, who was separated from her husband and son as she ran for her life from her village in Kyaukpyu, one of several townships hit by unrest.

The 42-year-old, who gave only one name, told AFP the attack was instigated by ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, with whom her Kaman Muslim community had lived “like family” in the past.

Decades-old animosity between Buddhists and minority Rohingya Muslims exploded in June after the apparent rape and murder of an ethnic Rakhine woman sparked a series of revenge attacks.

Burma’s 800,000 stateless Rohingya, viewed by the United Nations as among the most persecuted minorities on the planet, are seen by the government and many Burmese as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.

But other Muslims in Rakhine have also been swept up in the latest violence, and most of those displaced near the camp close to Sittwe identified themselves as Kaman, one of Burma’s officially recognised ethnic groups.

Rakhine government spokesman Win Myaing said an increase in displaced people had put the authorities under strain and indicated that the unrest could continue to flare.

“Some ask me how long the clashes will continue. We do not know. It could go on for about a month or two. It could even be as long as a year or two,” he told AFP.

UNHCR raised concerns about reaching the displaced in “extremely hard-to-reach areas“, and said unknown numbers had fled into the hills.

The agency said another 6,000 people were stranded on boats or on islets along Burma’s west coast and “are looking for safe access to places where they can receive assistance”.