One day earlier this month, a businessman turned social worker was going about a familiar and urgent task: looking for blood donors in camps crowded with Rohingya Muslims driven from their homes.
This time, Nu Maung needed three pints — one of O-positive, two of B-positive. Among those in need was a woman who had suffered complications during childbirth.
The military-led purges and abuses carried out against Burma’s Muslim minority Rohingya over the past year continue to yield new hardships. The blood hunt, as described by aid groups and others, offers another look at the extreme segregation Rohingya Muslims face in their country.
Rohingya are effectively blocked from accessing the blood bank in the main medical facility in the western Arakan (Rakhine) state, where most Rohingya live in Buddhist-majority Burma, according to two internal reports by a consortium of six major international aid groups.
Buddhists insist that their blood go only to other Buddhists, and the hospitals oblige, the groups say.
So men such as 48-year-old Nu Maung have to persuade fellow Muslims in these squalid camps to offer their own blood for about $10 per donation. He said he has been a donor 44 times so far.
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“After making their [blood] donation, sometimes they can’t work for the next few days,” Nu Maung told The Washington Post by telephone from Sittwe, the Rakhine state capital. “So we need to support them .”
Since the exodus of more than 700,000 Rohingya in August 2017 in a crackdown led by the Burmese military — labeled as genocidal by some U.S. lawmakers and a U.N. fact-finding mission — the Myanmar government has been under relentless international pressure to improve conditions for the Rohingya who remain.
But one of the two reports prepared by the aid group consortium operating in Arakan concluded that little has been done by the Burmese government despite its claims of “significant progress” on improving conditions. A copy of the 171-page document was seen by The Post. The six aid organizations allowed access to the report on the condition that the names of the agencies not be made public.
The report, prepared in late September, even questions whether international relief groups are indirectly complicit in “continued rights violations” by maintaining their work with authorities in Arakan and with Burma’s leaders, including now-tarnished Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
These groups must “consider whether they should continue working with the government in Rakhine and . . . how to reduce the harm they themselves cause by remaining,” the report said.
“The dilemma is real,” said Charles Petrie, the top U.N. diplomat in Myanmar, also known as Burma, from 2003 to 2007, who is now a U.N. adviser on peace efforts. “However, it is too easy to walk away and hold the moral high ground. . . . There would be no one around to provide services for these extremely vulnerable people.”
Soe Aung, Myanmar’s deputy minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, said he met with the U.N. and international aid groups recently to discuss improving conditions for the Rohingya.
“We didn’t receive any complaints [from the groups] about restrictions or segregations in the meeting,” he said. Rohingya Muslims, he said, are able to travel outside Myanmar for medical treatment and education “according to the law” and if they get necessary documentation.
He declined to comment on the issue of blood donations and said there was no specific government order to restrict them to those in the same ethnic group.
Since the August crackdown— increased restrictions have been imposed on the estimated 600,000 Rohingya who remain in Burma. This has complicated the minority’s already limited access to basic health care, education and their ability to continue their former livelihoods.
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