Number of Rohingya children fleeing Myanmar violence alone increases

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Rohingya children sit under a tree to take a upon arrival in Tuangiri, Teknaf, Bangladesh, Sept. 12.
Rohingya children sit under a tree to take a upon arrival in Tuangiri, Teknaf, Bangladesh, Sept. 12.

Rohingya children bear the brunt of continuing violence in Myanmar as the number of unaccompanied children who cross into Bangladesh increases, the U.N. reports

The lost Rohingya boy made the journey from Myanmar alone, following strangers from other villages across rivers and jungle until they reached Bangladesh, where he had no family and no idea where to go.

"Some women in the group asked, 'Where are your parents?' I said I didn't know where they were," said Abdul Aziz, a 10-year-old whose name has been changed to protect his identity. "A woman said, 'We'll look after you like our own child, come along'. After that I went with them."

More than 1,100 Rohingya children fleeing violence in western Myanmar have arrived alone in Bangladesh since Aug. 25, according to the latest UNICEF figures. These solo children are at risk of sexual abuse, human trafficking and psychological trauma, the U.N. children's agency said.

Many have seen family members brutally killed in village massacres in Rakhine state, where the Myanmar army and Buddhist mobs have been accused of crimes described by the UN rights chief as "ethnic cleansing." Others narrowly escaped with their own lives, some children arriving in Bangladesh bear shrapnel and bullet wounds.

The number of children who crossed into Bangladesh alone, or were split up from family along the way is expected to climb as more cases are discovered. More than half of the 370,000 Rohingya Muslims who have made it to Bangladesh since August 25 are minors, according to U.N. estimates.

A sample of 128,000 new arrivals conducted in early September across five different camps, found 60 percent were children, including 12,000 under one year of age. This presents a needle in a haystack scenario for child protection officers trying to find unaccompanied minors in sprawling refugee camps, where toddlers roam naked, children sleep outdoors and infants play alone in filthy water.

"This is a big concern. These children need extra support and help being reunited with family members," Save the Children's humanitarian expert George Graham said in a statement. The exodus from Myanmar's western Rakine state began after Rohingya militants attacked police posts on Aug. 25, prompting a military backlash that has sent a third of the Muslim minority population fleeing for their lives.

Exhausted Rohingya refugees have given accounts of atrocities at the hands of soldiers and Buddhist mobs who burned their villages to the ground. They cannot be independently verified as access to Rakhine state is heavily controlled.

Myanmar's government denies any abuses and instead blames militants for burning down thousands of villages, including many belonging to the Rohingya. But international pressure on Myanmar heightened this week after United Nations rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said the violence seemed to be a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing." The U.S. also raised alarm over the violence while the Security Council will meet today to discuss the crisis.

Opprobrium has been heaped Suu Kyi, who was once a darling of the rights community but now faces accusations of turning a blind eye to - and even abetting - a humanitarian catastrophe by Western powers who once feted her as well as a slew of fellow Nobel Laureates. She will not attend the United Nations General Assembly this week, her spokesman said yesterday, as the Nobel laureate faces a barrage of criticism over her failure to speak up for Rohingya Muslims fleeing Rakhine state in huge numbers.

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