SITTWE, Myanmar — By the time the baby girl was brought to the makeshift pharmacy, her chest was heaving, her temperature soaring. The supply of oxygen that might have helped was now off limits, in a Doctors Without Borders clinic shut down by the government in February.
A hospital visit was out of the question; admission for Rohingya Muslims, a long-persecuted minority, always requires a lengthy approval process — time that the baby, named Parmin, did not have. In desperation, the pharmacy owner sent the family to the rarely staffed Dapaing clinic, the only government emergency health center for the tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims herded into displaced people’s camps. Although it was just 4 p.m., the doors were shuttered.
“We became like crazy people, running everywhere,” the child’s grandmother, Daw Mu Mu Lwin, said. With no good choices left, the family returned to the pharmacy, where Parmin died, untreated, three and a half hours later, cradled in her grandmother’s arms.
The baby’s death was part of a rapidly expanding death toll and humanitarian crisis among the Rohingya, a Muslim minority that Myanmar’s Buddhist-led government has increasingly deprived of the most basic liberties and aid even as it trumpets its latest democratic reforms.
The crisis began with the government’s expulsion of Doctors Without Borders, one of the world’s premier humanitarian aid groups and the lifeline to health care for more than a million Rohingya increasingly denied those services by their own government. But the situation has grown more dire in recent weeks, as local Buddhist officials began severely restricting other humanitarian aid to the camps and the rest of Rakhine State, where tuberculosis, waterborne illnesses and malnutrition are endemic.
Some aid workers fear they are being kept away so there are fewer witnesses to rampant mistreatment and occasional bloodletting; the doctor’s group was expelled from Rakhine State after caring for victims of a violent assault on a Rohingya village that the government denies ever happened.
The scope of the government crackdown is serious enough that it has inspired at least some rebukes from world leaders after near silence even as Myanmar’s government ignored violence by local Buddhists in 2012 that left hundreds of Muslims dead and drove many others into the displaced people’s camps. Loath to criticize the government as it moves the country away from a military dictatorship, international leaders also fear losing out in an international scramble for Myanmar’s business, and allegiance.