Prevented From Working, the French Section of Médecins Sans Frontières Leaves Myanmar (Burma)
After four years in Myanmar (Burma), the French section of Médecins Sans Frontières has closed its medical programs and left the country. The programs were situated in the Mon and Karen states, a region bordering Thailand, and caught in an armed conflict between the Burmese military government and rebel groups. Médecins Sans Frontières has left because of unacceptable conditions imposed by the authorities on how to provide relief to people living in war-affected areas. The French section of Médecins Sans Frontières ended its presence in Myanmar on the 26th of March when the head of mission departed from the country.
In 2001, Médecins Sans Frontières began medical activities in Mon and Karen states, mainly focusing on malaria treatment. Malaria is one of the main causes of death in this area of conflict where there is poor access to health care. Since 2004, Médecins Sans Frontières' access to the population became increasingly difficult. By the end of 2005, the military authorities had imposed so many travel restrictions on Médecins Sans Frontières and applied such pressure on local health authorities not to cooperate with our teams that it became impossible for Médecins Sans Frontières to work in an acceptable manner.
“The Burmese regime wants absolute control over any humanitarian actor present in these politically-sensitive regions,” explains Dr. Hervé Isambert, program manager for the French section of Médecins Sans Frontières in Myanmar. “If we accept the restrictions imposed on us today, we would become nothing more than a technical service provider subject to the political priorities of the junta. It appears that the Burmese authorities do not want anyone to witness the abuses they are committing against their own population.”
Faced with this deadlock, the French section of Médecins Sans Frontières has decided to close its programs and leave the country.
The Dutch and Swiss sections of Médecins Sans Frontières continue to work in Myanmar however they express similar concerns about the restrictive working conditions enforced by the authorities in the regions they are working in today.