COX'S BAZAR • Humanitarian organisations helping Rohingya Muslim refugees in Bangladesh said yesterday they need US$434 million (S$590 million) over the next six months to help up to 1.2 million people, most of them children, in dire need of life-saving assistance.
There are an estimated 809,000 Rohingya sheltering in Bangladesh after fleeing violence and persecution in Myanmar, more than half a million of whom have arrived since Aug 25 to join 300,000 Rohingya who are already there.
"Unless we support the efforts of the Bangladesh government to provide immediate aid to the half million people who have arrived over the past month, many of the most vulnerable - women, children and the elderly - will die," said Mr William Lacy Swing, director-general of the International Organisation for Migration, which is coordinating the aid effort. "They will be the victims of neglect."
About 509,000 Rohingya have arrived in Bangladesh since attacks by Rohingya militants in August triggered a sweeping Myanmar military offensive that the United Nations has branded ethnic cleansing.
Myanmar rejects accusations of ethnic cleansing. It says its forces are fighting insurgents of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, which claimed responsibility for attacks on about 30 police posts and an army camp on Aug 25.
The agencies' plan for help over the next six months factors in the possibility of another 91,000 refugees arriving, as the influx continues, Mr Robert Watkins, UN resident coordinator in Bangladesh, said in a statement. "The plan targets 1.2 million people, including all Rohingya refugees, and 300,000 Bangladeshi host communities over the next six months," he said.
Half a million people need food, while 100,000 emergency shelters are required. More than half the refugees are children and 24,000 pregnant women need maternity care, the agencies said.
The Rohingya are regarded as illegal immigrants in Buddhist-majority Myanmar and most are stateless.
Many Rohingya are pessimistic about their chances of going home, partly because few have official papers confirming their residency. Most are also wary about returning without an assurance of citizenship, which they fear could leave them vulnerable to the persecution and discrimination they have endured for years.
Rohingya refugees arriving in Bangladesh amid a fresh exodus have described whole villages being emptied and thousands marching to the border as security forces redouble efforts to drive remaining Muslims from their homes.
Rakhine has been emptied of half of its Rohingya population in weeks, and more are on the move as insecurity presses them to leave villages that have so far been spared the worst of the violence ripping through the state.
Meanwhile, the UN committees for women's and children's rights called on the Myanmar authorities yesterday to immediately stop violence in the northern state.
"We are particularly worried about the fate of Rohingya women and children subject to serious violations of their human rights, including killings, rape and forced displacement," the committees on the elimination of discrimination against women and on the rights of the child said in a statement.
"Such violations may amount to crimes against humanity and we are deeply concerned at the state's failure to put an end to these shocking human rights violations being committed at the behest of the military and other security forces."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE