Exodus of Rohingya to Bangladesh Reaches 270,000, Says UNHCR
The treatment of Myanmar’s 1.1 million Muslim Rohingya is the biggest challenge facing leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
An estimated 270,000 Rohingya have sought refuge in Bangladesh over the past two weeks, the UN refugee agency said on Friday, announcing a dramatic jump in numbers fleeing violence in neighbouring Myanmar's Rakhine State.
A rights group said satellite images showed about 450 buildings had been burned down in a Myanmar border town largely inhabited by Rohingya, as part of what the Muslim minority refugees say is a concerted effort to expel them.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said the estimated number of Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh since violence erupted in Myanmar on 25 August had risen from 164,000 on Thursday, after aid workers found big groups in border areas.
"We have identified more people in different areas that we were not aware of," said Vivian Tan, a spokeswoman for UNHCR, while adding that there could be some double-counting.
"The numbers are so alarming – it really means that we have to step up our response and that the situation in Myanmar has to be addressed urgently."
The violence in Myanmar was set off by a coordinated attack on 25 August on dozens of police posts and an army base by Rohingya insurgents. The ensuing clashes and a major military counter-offensive have killed at least 400 people.
Myanmar officials blamed the Rohingya militants for the burning of homes and civilian deaths but rights monitors and Rohingyas fleeing to neighbouring Bangladesh say a campaign of arson and killings by the Myanmar army aims to force them out.
Following are some details on the crisis gathered from UN sources working in the Cox's Bazar district of Bangladesh, on the Myanmar border.
- New settlement clusters are being set up spontaneously and are quickly expanding, with support from communities despite cautioning by authorities against any attempt to provide refugees with materials. Materials most urgently needed would be for shelters.
- A stock of high-energy biscuits will only last two weeks. Rice supplies for both the refugees who crossed the border last year as well as this year's arrivals "may be problematic".
- There is enough safe water available to supply 2,500 people for 72 hours with additional stocks in the pipeline.
- Safe sanitation and hygiene can be provided for 500 people with an additional 1,000 kits available. There are 400 emergency latrine chambers with 60 more under construction.
- Overcrowded camps and a lack of knowledge of available medical facilities hamper the mobility of women in labour or those experiencing an emergency.
- Vaccination for children under five has started at the Kutupalong settlement area with 285 children vaccinated for oral polio, measles, rubella and given vitamin A shots.
- There is a need for segregated space in makeshift settlements, active community watch groups and stable power supplies at night to increase safety for women and reduce the threats of violence against them.
- Many children have been found without clothes and are at risk of abuse and trafficking.
- A total of 487 refugees have received psychological first-aid sessions since 25 August. Some women and children who have lost family members are traumatised after spending two nights in the open during heavy rain at the border area, and need psycho-social counselling in addition to basic survival needs.
Treatment of Rohingya Biggest Challenge Facing Aung San Suu Kyi
The number of those crossing the border surpassed the total of Rohingya who escaped Myanmar after a much smaller insurgent attack in October that set off a military operation beset by accusations of serious human rights abuses.
The newest estimate, based on the calculations of United Nations’ aid workers in the Bangladeshi border district of Cox’s Bazar, takes to nearly 150,000 the total number of Rohingya who have sought refuge in Bangladesh since October.
The treatment of Buddhist-majority Myanmar's roughly 1.1 million Muslim Rohingya is the biggest challenge facing leader Aung San Suu Kyi, accused by Western critics of not speaking out for the minority that has long complained of persecution.
"We are trying to build houses here, but there isn't enough space," said Mohammed Hussein, 25, who is still looking for a place to stay after fleeing Myanmar four days ago.
No non-government organisations came here. We have no food. Some women gave birth on the roadside. Sick children have no treatment here.Mohammed Hussein
(This article has been edited for length)
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