U.N. Worries About More Refugees as Myanmar Reports 'Large Numbers' Aim to Go
Muslim Rohingya are still fleeing from Myanmar to Bangladesh and the United Nations is bracing for a possible “further exodus”, the U.N. humanitarian aid chief said on Friday, quoted by Reuters.
Some 515,000 Rohingya have arrived in Bangladesh from Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine in six weeks since the end of August, in what the United Nations has called the world’s fastest-developing refugee emergency.
The refugee crisis began after Myanmar security forces responded to Rohingya militant attacks on Aug. 25 by unleashing a brutal crackdown that the United Nations has denounced as ethnic cleansing.
Myanmar insists its forces must fight the “terrorists” who have killed civilians and burnt villages, and it rejects any suggestion of ethnic cleansing.
But rights groups say more than half of more than 400 Rohingya villages in the north of Rakhine State have been torched in a campaign by the security forces and Buddhist vigilantes to drive out Muslims.
Mark Lowcock, U.N. under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, reiterated an appeal for access to the population in northern Rakhine, saying the situation was “unacceptable”.
Myanmar has blocked most access to the area, although some agencies have offices open in towns there and the International Committee of the Red Cross is helping the Myanmar Red Cross to deliver aid.
“This flow out of Myanmar has not stopped yet, it’s into the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya (who are) still in Myanmar, we want to be ready in case there is a further exodus,” Lowcock told a news briefing in Geneva.
An estimated 2,000 Rohingya are arriving in Bangladesh every day, Joel Millman of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) told a separate briefing.
Myanmar officials have said they attempted to reassure groups trying to flee to Bangladesh but could not stop people who were not citizens from leaving.
The official Myanmar News Agency said “large numbers” of Muslims were preparing to cross the border. It cited their reasons as “livelihood difficulties”, health problems and a “belief” of insecurity.
Aid agencies have warned of a malnutrition crisis with about 281,000 people in Bangladesh in urgent need of food, including 145,000 children under five and more than 50,000 pregnant and breastfeeding women.
Cholera is a risk, amid fears of disease spreading in the rain-drenched camps where aid workers are trying to install sanitation systems, a spokesman for the World Health Organization said.
About 900,000 doses of cholera vaccines are due to arrive this weekend and a vaccination campaign should start on Tuesday.
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