Nearly 60 babies a day are being born in squalid refugee camps in southeastern Bangladesh where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims shelter, fleeing violence in neighboring Myanmar, the U.N. children's agency said yesterday.
UNICEF said in a statement that since the crisis began more than 16,000 babies had been born in the camps with only about 3,000 delivered in health facilities.
"Around 60 babies a day are taking their first breath in appalling conditions, away from home, to mothers who have survived displacement, violence, trauma and, at times, rape," said Edouard Beigbeder, UNICEF's Representative in Bangladesh.
There were widespread reports of rape against women and girls, Beigbeder said in the statement, adding that it was impossible to know the true number of babies who have been born as a result of sexual violence. "It is impossible to know the true number of babies who have been or will be born as a result of sexual violence," he said. "It is vital that each and every new and expectant mother and every new-born receive all the help and support they need."
UNICEF estimates that only one in five Rohingya children were delivered in health facilities established in the refugee camps. The agency has mobilized 250 community volunteers to make sure that the women visit health care facilities before and after giving birth.
A senior Bangladesh health ministry official, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter, said last week that so far 18,300 pregnant women had been identified in the camps and the rough total estimate was around 25,000.
Calls for the international community to take measures against the "visible genocide" facing Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar has increased as the monsoon season approaches. In March the United Nations launched an appeal for $951 million to help the Rohingya refugees for the rest of the year, but it is less than 20 percent funded.
An estimated 700,000 Rohingya have fled over the border to Bangladesh since an army crackdown was launched in Rakhine state in August. Myanmar blames Rohingya militants for an Aug. 25 strike on security posts in Rakhine state that triggered a fierce army crackdown.
At least 9,000 Rohingya were killed in Rakhine state from Aug. 25 to Sept. 24, according to Doctors without Borders. In a report last December, the global humanitarian group said the deaths of 71.7 percent, or 6,700 Rohingya, were caused by violence. The death toll includes 730 children below the age of 5.
The stateless Rohingya have been the target of communal violence and vicious anti-Muslim sentiment in mainly Buddhist Myanmar for years. Myanmar has denied citizenship to Rohingya since 1982 and excludes them from the 135 ethnic groups it officially recognizes, which effectively renders them stateless. The Rohingya trace their presence in Rakhine back centuries. But most people in majority-Buddhist Myanmar consider them to be unwanted Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh.