Myanmar’s Rakhine State represents a challenging mix of conflict, inter-communal tension, center-periphery grievances and economic under-development. The state remains one of the poorest areas in the country, and limited employment opportunities have resulted in significant out-migration. Relations between the Rakhine majority and the Muslim minority remain fragile. In the second half of 2017, renewed violence forced approximately 700,000 Muslims to flee across the border with Bangladesh. Prospects for immediate large-scale refugee return remain elusive. Systemic discrimination against the Muslim minority – the vast majority of whom are stateless – persists, and more than 120,000 remain in squalid IDP camps in central Rakhine. Even beyond the camps, the community continues to face severe movement restrictions, with limited access to health, education and livelihood opportunities. The security situation on the ground has also deteriorated over the past two years, as the conflict between the Government and the Arakan Army (a Rakhine Buddhist Ethnic Armed Organization) has escalated.
For the UN and other international actors on the ground, Rakhine represents a challenging operational environment. In the northern part of the state, access remains limited – reducing the ability to collect data, conduct comprehensive assessments and deliver services to affected communities. In the central and southern parts of the state, access is better, although recent restrictions in central Rakhine have generated new challenges, and the COVID-19 pandemic has further complicated the situation.
The Myanmar Humanitarian Response Plan for 2020 identifies more than 273,000 IDPs requiring some level of support in Myanmar with the vast majority located in Rakhine State. Over the two years following the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission the Myanmar Government’s Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement (MoSWRR) worked on drafting a “National Strategy on Resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and Closure of IDP Camps”. The strategy was officially launched in Nay Pyi Taw on 19 November 2019. This strategy “provides a framework for closing IDP camps, rehabilitating IDPs and ultimately finding solutions ending their displacement consistent with existing laws and policies of Myanmar, applicable international standards, the recommendations of Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, and the social sector basic principles of the Union Accord…adopted in the 2nd Session of the Union Peace Conference – 21st Century Panglong on May 29, 2017.”
The UN’s senior leadership at Headquarters has recognized that the Government’s new strategy on IDP resettlement and camp closure represents an important opportunity to address one of Myanmar’s most pressing conflict-related challenges. In December 2019 the Secretary-General-chaired UN Executive Committee provided instructions on how the UNCT in Myanmar should engage on this matter, and asked the RC to lead coordination of a nexus approach through a protection-focused and integrated effort to support the implementation of the strategy, including the establishment of a “Durable Solutions” unit in the RCO and a dedicated funding mechanism, in consultation with IOM, OCHA, UNDP, UNHCR, UNICEF, UNFPA and UN Women, as well as other UN agencies and partners across the humanitarian, development and peacebuilding spectrum.
The RCO Officein Sittwe that will be headed by the Area Coordinator and RCO Head of Office, and provide overall coordination of UN activities in Rakhine and southern Chin States working in close collaboration with humanitarian, development and peacebuilding partners in the Area. The RCO Sittwe Office seeks to ensure that coordination integrates all aspects of international engagement in Rakhine through a nexus approach including work on durable solutions that brings together development, humanitarian and peacebuilding efforts in Rakhine State in a holistic and complementary manner. The Senior Advisor – Human Security is an integral adviser in the RCO Sittwe Office.