Rohingya refugee exodus nears 1 million, UN calls for massive aid

Published 23.10.2017 20:25
Updated 23.10.2017 20:26
Rohingya refugees line up to receive humanitarian aid at the Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, Oct. 23.
Rohingya refugees line up to receive humanitarian aid at the Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, Oct. 23.

The Rohingya refugee exodus from Myanmar to Bangladesh could soon reach the 1 million mark with the United Nations describing the massive need for aid amid the growing humanitarian crisis

Nearly 1 million Rohingya refugees have fled violence in Myanmar, as the world faces the fastest-growing refugee crisis unfolding in Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Bangladesh, one of Asia's poorest countries, has taken in around 600,000 Rohingya refugees who have fled alleged atrocities in Myanmar's Rakhine state since late August. The new arrivals in Cox's Bazar have joined 400,000 Rohingya refugees who had crossed to Bangladesh before August.

"This is the biggest exodus from a single country since the Rwandan genocide in 1994," Shameem Ahsan, Bangladesh's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, told a U.N. pledging conference.

"Despite claims to the contrary, violence in Rakhine state has not stopped. Thousands still enter on a daily basis," he said.

Bangladesh's interior minister was in Yangon on Monday for talks to find a "durable solution," Ahsan said.

But Myanmar continued to issue "propaganda projecting Rohingyas as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh," Ahsan said, adding: "This blatant denial of the ethnic identity of Rohingyas remains a stumbling block."

United Nations humanitarian officials, high-level government envoys and advocacy group leaders opened a one-day conference yesterday aimed at drumming up funds to help ethnic Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

The Geneva meeting hosted by the European Union, the government of Kuwait and the U.N.'s migration, refugee and humanitarian aid coordinating agencies aims to help meet a U.N. call for $434 million in funding through February.

Refugees in and around the Bangladeshi fishing town of Cox's Bazar have faced food and water shortages, lack of shelters and inadequate sanitation facilities, raising the risk of disease outbreaks. Nearly six out of 10 refugees are children, many of them arriving malnourished. "It's a pretty grim situation," U.N. refugee chief Filippo Grandi said. "The needs are massive."

The president of the medical aid group Doctors Without Borders, Joanne Liu, described the chaos and suffering she saw during a recent visit to a refugee camp, where children get lost on their way to collect water, while adults collapse because of dehydration. "The camp is a time bomb ticking toward a full-blown health crisis," she warned.

Amnesty's report presents evidence that the Myanmar military has killed at least hundreds of Rohingya women, men, and children, raped and perpetrated other forms of sexual violence on Rohingya women and girls, and carried out organized, targeted burning of entire Rohingya villages. Myanmar rejects accusations of ethnic cleansing and has labeled the Rohingya militants who launched the attacks as terrorists. U.N. aid agencies have not had access to the shrinking Rohingya population in Rakhine state and the United Nations says Rohingya there now face a "desperate choice whether to stay or go," not only due to the violence but also humanitarian needs.

Buddhist-majority Myanmar has denied citizenship for the Rohingya since 1982 and excludes them from the 135 ethnic groups officially recognized, which effectively renders them stateless. They have long faced discrimination and persecution with many Buddhists in Myanmar calling them "Bengalis" and saying they migrated illegally from Bangladesh, even though they have lived in the country for generations.

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