In Myanmar’s Rakhine state, even food is political. Sectarian tensions have simmered for decades here on the country’s western frontier with Bangladesh, and they exploded with deadly violence in 2012 when mobs of ethnic Rakhine Buddhists drove minority Muslim Rohingyas from their homes. Four years later, about 120,000 people remain displaced and, with hostilities as high as ever, the government is struggling to help them return home. So when a government programme gave 22,000 displaced Rohingya US$1,000 cash grants to rebuild stilted, thatch-roofed homes, the move was greeted with cautious optimism. The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, hailed it as a “first step towards ending displacement” in a May press release . It was a halting first step at best since most of the beneficiaries of the programme had already been living in or near their original villages, rather than in the squalid camps for internally displaced people around the state capital, Sittwe.
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The politics of food aid in Myanmar’s Rakhine state