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Concern grows for increasing numbers of displaced in Myanmar's Rakhine

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Rakhine State has always been known for its rich history and beautiful landscape across the western part of Myanmar.

However, recent bouts of clashes between the Tatmadaw and Arakan Army have now turned Rakhine State synonymous with instability. In December 2018, conflict escalated, disrupting civilian lives and causing more than 19,000 people to flee their homes by any means possible including bamboo rafts and on foot from mountainous areas.

They are now taking shelter in monasteries, camps and other communal spaces in Kyauktaw, Buthidaung, Ponnagyun, Mrauk-U, Maungdaw, Minbya and Rathedaung townships.

A single camp in Ponnagyun Township's Ah Htet Myat Hlay village serves as a provisional home for over 500 people. Crammed together, they live in small temporary shelters made of bamboo and tarpaulin. Families pack themselves into these spaces, sleeping on hay; huddling together to fight the cold. On the dusty streets of the camp, one only sees children playing around, while adults gather in groups indoors.

Ma Sein Nu, who fled with her five children, is one of the many residents who had to leave everything behind.

The journey to safety has been particularly difficult for children and the elderly, who are often the most vulnerable when displaced.

"I cannot hear very well. My son and daughter had to help me throughout the journey here", says 56-year-old Sein Ma Phyu, who travelled a long way to get to this camp.

Most of the camp's current residents arrived without any of their belongings, resulting in dire conditions and a lack of basic necessities. The earliest help they received came from sympathetic host communities.

70-year-old U Maung Kyaw explains, as he is one of many who fled his home along with his wife and two granddaughters.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) also provided the camp's residents with food, mats, blankets and other household items for men, women and children, latrine construction material, tarpaulins as well as cash to buy food from the nearby market.

Since the ICRC first started operating in Rakhine in 2012, it has helped thousands of people affected by conflict, reaching over 16,000 people specifically since December 2018. As the ongoing conflict continues to disrupt lives, the ICRC is working with all the communities affected by it to meet their long-term needs and help them find sustainable means of livelihood.

Even as they try to settle in, families wonder when they'll be able to return to their peaceful and independent lives again.