NEARLY half a million refugees from Myanmar have now crossed into Bangladesh — half of them children — in what is an escalating human catastrophe, aid agencies have warned.
About 480,000 Rohingya Muslims are now thought to have fled from violence at the hands of the Burmese military in northern Rakhine state (News, 15 September). One in ten of those fleeing is pregnant, or a breastfeeding mother.
Agencies say that more money and aid is needed to help the refugees, who are living in makeshift shelters on muddy hilltops just over the border with Bangladesh.
The UK’s Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) this week launched a joint fund-raising appeal for the refugees. Without urgent support, it said, “the risk of disease and further misery is alarmingly high.”
The UK Government is being urged to increase aid supplies to Bangladesh. Aid agencies say that they have only 40 per cent of the money needed to help the refugees.
The head of the UN’s food relief agency, David Beasley, toured the makeshift camps this week, and called for more support to help ease the humanitarian crisis. Mr Beasley, who is executive director of the World Food Programme, also called for an end to the “horrors” which are driving the Rohingyas from their homes.
World Vision’s director for Bangladesh, Fred Witteveen, said: “Hundreds of thousands of people are facing catastrophe. In the refugee camps, a lethal cocktail of poor sanitation and downpours is creating breeding grounds for disease. Aid workers and the government are racing against time before the situation spirals out of control.”
Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister, and his counterpart from Myanmar, have agreed to set up a working group to plan for the repatriation of refugees who could prove that they had come from the country, it was announced on Monday.
But refugees in the camps told the Reuters news agency that their homes and entire villages had been burned, and that they had no paperwork to prove that they had come from Myanmar.
The Rohingya are treated as stateless, and are unable to get citizenship in Myanmar.
The diocese of Winchester has a link with the Province of Myanmar. The Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Tim Dakin, said that the reports that he had received from the Bishop of Sittwe, the Rt Revd James Min Dein, were “deeply concerning and distressing”.
“From what Bishop James tells me of the recent violence and ensuing refugee crisis, there are people in his diocese taking refuge in vicarages and refugee camps. Some children are unable to attend school, and many people are struggling to find food.
“Representatives of churches from across the diocese of Winchester met recently to pray for Myanmar, and we continue to hope and pray that the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh will work together to resolve this crisis situation and bring peace and justice to those misplaced.”