Sittwe Camp Profiling Report

Stephanie Matti

A Camp Coordination and Camp Management Cluster (CCCM) exercise co-led by the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), with technical support from JIPS and NorCap


This report analyses the displacement situation in and around Sittwe Township, the capital of Rakhine State in Myanmar, where ethnic violence has displaced more than 121,000 people since 2012. The profiling exercise, initiated in 2016, covered four population groups in and around Sittwe Township: (1) displaced Muslims living in IDP camps on the outskirts of the town; (2) displaced Rakhine living in relocated or locally integrated sites; (3) non-displaced residents of Muslim villages; and (4) non-displaced residents of Rakhine villages. Data collection methods included: a desk review and informant interviews; enumeration in Muslim camps; household survey administered to 4,662 households; focus group discussions; and camp mapping. Key findings:

  • Almost 100,000 IDPs were living in rural camps, the majority displaced in 2012 from urban areas. 17,618 households (97,484 individuals) were enumerated in the Muslim IDP camps in rural Sittwe. 94 percent of the population was displaced in 2012. 84 percent originate from Sittwe Township and 11 percent from Pauktaw Township; 76 percent came from urban areas.
  • Muslims were less likely to be literate, or to speak Rakhine and Myanmar languages. Less than a third of Muslim females and half of Muslim males were literate (with slightly lower literacy rates in Muslim villages than in camps) compared to 85 percent adult literacy rates for Rakhines (slightly higher in Rakhine villages than in relocated sites). While more than 95 percent of Rakhines spoke Myanmar, younger Muslims were less likely to speak Rakhine or Myanmar languages (correlated with more secure sources of income for people in the camps, and critical for early warning systems including for severe weather).
  • Muslim households were less likely to own radios, televisions or mobile phones. Less than two 2 percent of Muslim households own a radio and less than 1 percent own a television, raising concerns about disaster early warning systems. Rates of mobile phone ownership among the Rakhine population (50 percent for villages and 67 percent for the relocated sites) was nearly double that of the Muslim population (30 percent in villages and 34 percent in camps), but lower than the national average of 73 percent.
  • Muslims, particularly those in villages, had lower school enrollment rates. Among Rakhine children, there are high primary and middle school enrollment rates for both IDP and host community children (94 percent), but high school attendance rates are higher in Rakhine villages (80 percent) than in Rakhine relocated sites (55 percent). Among Muslim children in the camps, over 80 percent of primary school-aged children were attending school or temporary learning spaces. This was similar for middle school-aged boys but dropped to 71 percent for girls. Only 31 percent of high school-aged girls and 62 percent of boys were attending school or temporary learning spaces. School attendance rates were lowest in Muslim villages, with less than two-thirds of primary school-aged children attending school. There is a large gender divide among Muslim children attending school. Middle school-aged Muslim boys are nearly twice as likely to attend school as girls. Expenses were the main reason for Muslim boys and younger girls to not attend school. Cultural norms were the main reason given for older Muslim girls (from age 10 to 13) not attending school.
  • The majority of IDPs in rural camps were living in small temporary and makeshift shelters. Temporary shelters have become increasingly congested and the condition of the shelters has deteriorated significantly since the camps were established. Average space in the formal temporary shelters was 2.8m2 per person (68 percent of people had less than 3.5m2).
  • Outside the camps, home ownership rates were lowest in Rakhine relocated sites. Average home ownership rates were 93 percent in the Rakhine villages, 82 percent in Muslim villages, and 66 percent in Rakhine relocated sites.
  • Most IDP camps in rural areas meet SPHERE standards for water and sanitation. There is an average of one latrine for 21 people in the rural camps (SPHERE standard is 20 people per latrine) and 80 people using each borehole. All camps in Sittwe rural areas with the exception of Thae Chaung meet SPHERE standards for access to water (at least 1 hand pump for 192 people). Ownership of water storage containers was high across Muslim camps (93 percent) and lower among Muslim villages (62 percent), Rakhine relocated sites (48 percent) and Rakhine villages (32 percent).
  • Healthcare was a key expense for both Muslim and Rakhine households, and was one of the main reasons households took out loans. More than three-quarters of households that experienced a serious health issue in the past six months sought healthcare. Roughly 30 percent of pregnant women in Muslim camps reported having had serious pregnancy-related issues in the past six months.
  • Less than 10 percent of Muslim children under five had birth certificates, compared with two-thirds of Rakhine children of the same age.
  • Muslims, particularly those in IDP camps, were less likely to participate in the labor force. 85 percent of working-age Rakhine males were participating in the labor force, compared to 74 percent of males in Muslim villages and 66 percent of males in Muslim camps. Approximately 44 percent of working-age Rakhine females were participating in the labor force, compared to less than 15 percent of Muslim females. For all target populations, the proportion of people in salaried employment was much lower than the national average. Muslims were in salaried employment at a rate less than half the national average. Less than 10 percent of all target populations owned businesses; the rate was lowest among Muslim camp households (3 percent). However, 22 percent of Muslim camp households reported having owned a business or trade stall prior to displacement. Few people in Muslim camps use their job skills from before displacement, those that work in the same sector earn much less for the same work. A lack of start-up capital and movement restrictions were key factors limiting job growth in the camps.
  • Muslim households, particularly those in IDP camps, had lower median incomes. Half the households in the Muslim camps had a median income of 25,000 MMK per month or less, compared with 35,000 MMK for Muslim villages, 75,000 MMK for Rakhine villages, and 100,000 MMK for Rakhine relocated sites. The higher median income among Rakhine relocated sites compared with Rakhine villages may reflect the fact that the Rakhine relocated sites are in urban settings, while the Rakhine villages are in a combination of urban, peri-urban and rural locations. The highest monthly expense across all population groups was food, followed by fuel and healthcare.
  • Rates of indebtedness are high, particularly in Muslim villages and camps. 67 percent of households in Rakhine villages and 65 percent in Rakhine relocated sites were indebted, nearly double the national average of 35 percent. The rate of indebtedness was even higher for Muslim villages and camps (84 percent).
  • Muslim households had lower food consumption scores, particularly households in Muslim villages that do not benefit from food distributions: The majority of Rakhine households in villages (95 percent) and relocated sites (98 percent) had acceptable food consumption compared with just 67 percent of households in Muslim villages and 73 percent in Muslim camps. Most people in the Muslim camps and Rakhine relocated sites rely on food distributions as their main source of food. The main source of food was own production in Rakhine villages (79 percent) and Muslim villages (58 percent). Around 40 percent of Rakhine households reported not having enough food or money to buy food in the past week; this was higher in the Muslim camps (72 percent) and villages (69 percent). 45 percent of Rakhine groups and 73 percent of Muslim groups resorted to negative coping mechanisms to meet basic expenses (borrowing money, selling non-food item distributions and selling food).
  • Although Rakhines and Muslims had frequently interacted with one another in the past, this became much less common following the outbreaks of violence in 2012. Less than one percent of Rakhine households surveyed said they had interacted with Muslims in the past week, and only about one in ten Muslim households said they had interacted with Rakhines. Many Rakhine respondents expressed anxiety about living near Muslim settlements. Many younger Muslims are unable to speak the Rakhine or Myanmar languages, and have few opportunities to learn them.
  • Community relations within communities were perceived to be generally positive. However, sources of tensions in the Muslim camps included: living in close proximity to each other; urban/rural cultural differences; deteriorating infrastructure in the camps; and socio-economic divisions. There were high levels of interaction between people in Muslim camps and villages, with approximately two-thirds of households having some form of interaction in the week prior to the survey. While interaction was reported to be generally collaborative and positive, some sources of tension included: camps being located on host village farming land; less land available for breeding animals; and increased demand for limited firewood.
  • Food was the most frequently cited top non-cash priority need across all groups. After food, health services and job opportunities, education and shelter/housing assistance were the most frequently cited priority needs across all target populations.
  • 94 percent of residents in Muslim camps said they would prefer to return to their place of origin due to better access to education, job opportunities, reconnecting with pre-displacement social networks, better access to healthcare, and safer, more reliable housing. Prerequisites for return include: housing and a plot of land, access to employment opportunities and peaceful coexistence with the local community.

Overall, the Muslim population fares significantly worse than Rakhine population for most indicators. Muslims in camps settings and surrounding villages face many of the same constraints in terms of segregation and access to civil documentation, and so it cannot be generalized that the Muslim camps are worse off than the villages or vice versa.