COX'S BAZAR (Bangladesh) • An alarming and unprecedented influx of 270,000 Rohingya has sought refuge in Bangladesh over the past two weeks from violence in Myanmar, the United Nations refugee agency said yesterday, a dramatic jump in the total number as new pockets of people were found.
A rights group said satellite images showed that about 450 buildings had been burned down in a Myanmar border town largely inhabited by Rohingya, as part of what the refugees say is a concerted effort to expel members of the Muslim minority.
Ms Vivian Tan, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said the estimated number of Rohingya who have fled to Bangladesh since violence erupted on Aug 25 had surged from 164,000 on Thursday.
"The numbers are so alarming - it really means that we have to step up our response and that the situation in Myanmar has to be addressed urgently," she said.
The surge in the number of refugees, many sick or wounded, has strained the resources of aid agencies and communities which are already helping hundreds of thousands displaced by previous waves of violence in Myanmar.
Many have no shelter, and aid agencies are racing to provide clean water, sanitation and food.
"We need to prepare for many more to come, I am afraid," said Mr Shinji Kubo, UNHCR's Bangladesh country manager.
More than 1,000 people - mostly minority Rohingya Muslims - may already have been killed in Myanmar, said Ms Lee Yanghee, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar.
The figures given by Ms Lee, a South Korean academic, are far higher than the official death toll, which is 432. Myanmar's army previously said it had killed 387 Rohingya militants.
Myanmar said its security forces are fighting a legitimate campaign against "terrorists" it blames for a string of attacks on police posts, and for burning homes and civilian deaths. It said that about 30,000 non-Muslims have been displaced by the violence.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE