International aid groups in Myanmar have urged the government to allow free access to Rakhine State, where an army offensive has sent 480,000 people fleeing to Bangladesh but hundreds of thousands remain cut off from food, shelter and medical care.
The latest army campaign in the western state was launched in response to attacks by Rohingya Muslim insurgents on security posts near the Bangladesh border on Aug. 25.
The government has stopped international non-government groups (INGOs), as well as U.N. agencies, from working in the north of the state, citing insecurity.
“INGOs in Myanmar are increasingly concerned about severe restrictions on humanitarian access and impediments to the delivery of critically needed humanitarian assistance throughout Rakhine State,” aid groups said in a statement late on Wednesday.
An unknown number of people are internally displaced, while hundreds of thousands lack food, shelter and medical services, said the groups, which include Care International, Oxfam and Save the Children.
“We urge the government and authorities of Myanmar to ensure that all people in need in Rakhine Sate have full, free and unimpeded access to life-saving humanitarian assistance.”
The government has put the Myanmar Red Cross in charge of aid to the state, with the help of the International Committee of the Red Cross. But the groups said they feared insufficient aid was getting through given the “enormous” needs.
Relations between the government and aid agencies had been difficult for months, with some officials accusing groups of helping the insurgents.
Aid groups dismissed the accusations, which they said had inflamed anger towards them among Buddhists in the communally divided state.
The groups said threats, allegations and misinformation had led to “genuine fears” among aid workers, and they called for an end to “misinformation and unfounded accusations” and for the government to ensure safety.
The United Nations has accused the army of ethnic cleansing to push Rohingya Muslims out of Myanmar, and rights groups have said the army has committed crimes against humanity and called for sanctions, in particular an arms embargo.
The United States said the army response to the insurgent attacks was “disproportionate” and the crisis raised questions about Myanmar’s transition to democracy after decades of military rule.
British Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific Mark Field described the situation as “an unacceptable tragedy” after visiting Myanmar and meeting leaders including Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.