UNICEF: Rohingya Refugee Children in Bangladesh Face ‘Hell on Earth’

Nearly 340,000 Rohingya children are seeing a “hell on earth” by living in squalid conditions in Bangladesh camps where they lack enough food, clean water and health care, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Friday.

Up to 12,000 more children join them every week, fleeing violence or hunger in Myanmar, often still traumatised by atrocities they witnessed, UNICEF said in a report “Outcast and Desperate.”

In all, almost 600,000 Rohingya refugees have left northern Rakhine state since Aug. 25 when the UN says the Myanmar army began a campaign of “ethnic cleansing.”

“This isn’t going to be a short-term, it isn’t going to end anytime soon,” Simon Ingram, the report’s author and a UNICEF official, told a news briefing in Geneva.

“These children just feel so abandoned, so completely remote, and without a means of finding support or help. In a sense, it’s no surprise that they must truly see this place as a hell on earth,” Ingram said.

The report comes ahead of a donor conference Monday in Geneva to drum up funding for the Rohingya.

The UN and humanitarian agencies seek $434 million for the Rohingya refugees — about one-sixth of which would go to UNICEF efforts to help children.

“Many Rohingya refugee children in Bangladesh have witnessed atrocities in Myanmar no child should ever see, and all have suffered tremendous loss,” UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said in a statement.

UN agencies are still demanding access to northern Rakhine, where an unknown number of Rohingya remain despite UN
reports that many villages and food stocks have been burned.

“We repeat the call for the need for protection of all children in Rakhine state, this is an absolute fundamental
requirement. The atrocities against children and civilians must end,” Ingram said.

“We just must keep putting it on the record, we cannot keep silent,” he added.

Myanmar Army Probing Atrocities against Rohingya

Myanmar’s military has said it is investigating its operations in Rakhine state, where the United Nations has accused troops of waging an ethnic cleansing campaign against minority Rohingya Muslims, who have fled in droves to Bangladesh.

According to statements released Friday, the military is now preparing to publish results of its internal investigation.

“An investigation team led by Defense Services Inspector General Lt-Gen Aye Win is inspecting security forces and military units (to see) whether they perform the assigned duties or not,” said a statement from the army’s “True News Information Team.”

But a separate post published on the army chief’s Facebook page suggested troops would be cleared of abuses, saying: “it was found that all actions conformed to the law.”

“Measures are being taken to make a comprehensive report,” added the statement on General Min Aung Hlaing’s Facebook page.

In the last seven weeks, more than half a million Rohingya have fled Rakhine for Bangladesh, shocking the globe with accounts of Myanmar soldiers and Buddhist mobs murdering and raping civilians before torching their villages to the ground.

The army has steadfastly denied the charges and insists it is targeting Rohingya militants who attacked police posts on August 25.

It has also blocked independent access to the conflict zone, triggering condemnation from the UN, which has accused the army of leading a systematic campaign to expel the Muslim minority.

The country’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who came to power in free elections in 2015, lacks control over the military.

But her reputation has been battered by the crisis, with rights groups voicing outrage over her perceived lack of sympathy towards the Rohingya and unwillingness to condemn alleged atrocities by the army. 

UNHCR’s Grandi Says KSRelief is the First to Send Team to Assess Rohingya Needs in Bangladesh

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Relief and Humanitarian Aid Center, also known as KSRelief, signed on Wednesday a joint cooperation pact with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, UNHCR, said the Saudi state-owned press agency, SPA.

The agreement was co-signed by Dr. Abdullah bin Abdualziz Al-Rabiah, Consultant at the Royal Court and General Supervisor of KSRelief, and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.

For his part, Grandi stressed that KSRelief is the first center organization visiting the Rohingya camps to assess the situation there in addition to other examples in Yemen and Syria, pointing out to a cooperation between the two sides to support the Syrian refugees and displaced people in neighboring states.

This agreement aims to enhance strategic cooperation and partnership between the two organizations.

Following the signing ceremony, Dr. Al-Rabiah disclosed that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia supported the affected people in 38 countries through providing 232 relief and humanitarian programs in addition to hosting 561,911 Yemeni visitors (refugees), 262,573 Syrian visitors (refugees) and more than 300,000 Barmawis.

UN: Myanmar Clearance Operations Aim to Prevent Rohingya’s Return

Rohingya

The United Nations human rights office accused on Wednesday security forces in Myanmar of not only violently driving away Muslim Rohingya from their homes in Rakhine state, but of also implementing “clearance operations” to prevent their return.

The security forces have torched homes, crops and villages to prevent the Rohingya’s return. More than half a million have fled to neighboring Bangladesh to escape the brutal “systematic” crackdown, said the UN.

In a report based on 65 interviews with Rohingya, who have arrived in Bangladesh in the past month, the UN said that the clearance operations had begun before insurgent attacks on police posts on August 25 and included killings, torture and rape of children.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra‘ad al-Hussein – who has described the government operations as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” – said in a statement that the actions appeared to be “a cynical ploy to forcibly transfer large numbers of people without possibility of return”.

“Credible information indicates that the Myanmar security forces purposely destroyed the property of the Rohingyas, scorched their dwellings and entire villages in northern Rakhine State, not only to drive the population out in droves but also to prevent the fleeing Rohingya victims from returning to their homes,” the latest report by his Geneva office said.

The destruction by security forces, often joined by “mobs” of armed Rakhine Buddhists, of houses, fields, food stocks, crops, and livestock make the possibility of Rohingya returning to normal lives in northern Rakhine “almost impossible”.

Myanmar security forces are believed to have planted landmines along the border in an attempt to prevent Rohingya from returning, it said, adding: “There are indications that violence is still ongoing”.

Myanmar on Tuesday launched its first bid to improve relations between Buddhists and Muslims since the eruption of deadly violence inflamed communal tension and triggered an exodus of some 520,000 Muslims to Bangladesh. It held inter-faith prayers at a stadium in Yangon.

A team of UN human rights officials, who went to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, from September 14-24, met victims and eyewitnesses and corroborated their accounts.

They documented Myanmar security forces “firing indiscriminately at Rohingya villagers, injuring and killing other innocent victims, setting houses on fire”, the report said.

“Almost all testimonies indicated that people were shot at close range and in the back while they tried to flee in panic,” it said. “Witness accounts attest to Rohingya victims, including children and elderly people, burned to death inside their houses.”

Several interviewees indicated that a “launcher”, most probably a rocket propelled grenade launcher, was used to set houses on fire, the report added.

Girls just five to seven years old had been raped, often in front of relatives, and sometimes by several men “all dressed in army uniforms”, it said.

The social welfare, relief and resettlement minister has been quoted as saying that “according to the law, burned land becomes government-managed land,” it said, noting the government has previously used this law to prevent the return of displaced.

Rohingya men under 40 were arrested up to a month before August 25 without charge, creating a “climate of intimidation and fear”.

“In some cases, before and during the attacks, megaphones were used to announce: ‘You do not belong here – go to Bangladesh. If you do not leave, we will torch your houses and kill you’,” the UN said.

Teachers as well as cultural, religious and community leaders have also been targeted in the latest crackdown “in an effort to diminish Rohingya history, culture and knowledge”, the report said.

“Efforts were taken to effectively erase signs of memorable landmarks in the geography of the Rohingya landscape and memory in such a way that a return to their lands would yield nothing but a desolate and unrecognizable terrain,” it added.

During the briefing on the report, a senior UN human rights official called on Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi to stop the violence and discrimination against the Rohingya.

“Our ask of Aung San Suu Kyi is certainly to immediately stop the violence,” Jyoti Sanghera, head of the Asia and Pacific region of the UN human rights office.

Sanghera voiced concern that Rohingya who have fled to Bangladesh might be “incarcerated or detained” on return to Myanmar, where she said they lacked citizenship and other civil and political rights.

More than 10,000 Rohingya Flee to Bangladesh since Monday, Says UNHCR

Rohingya

More than 11,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees have arrived in Bangladesh from Myanmar on Monday in a new surge, said the United Nations refugee agency citing Bangladesh border guards.

“We’re back in a situation of full alert as far as influxes are concerned. It is a big increase to see 11,000,” Adrian Edwards, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told a news briefing in Geneva on Tuesday.

“We have had big numbers coming across by the day over the six weeks of this emergency. So we are back up to approaching some of those peak arrivals. Clearly we have to be prepared for more arrivals,” he said.

Many of the refugees are reported to come from the Buthidaung area in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state, which is 20-25 kilometers east of Maungdaw.

“Some said they had fled torching and killings back home; one boy was seen with a big gash across his neck,” Edwards said.

“We don’t know at the moment what is driving this,” he added. “Some of these people have fled their homes several days ago and in some cases two weeks ago, so they moved towards the border before coming across.”

There are also indications of more recent problems.

“As you may have seen from media reports which I can’t verify, but there are reports about fires being seen close to the border (and) other problems there,” Edwards said.

More than half a million Rohingya have fled Myanmar since August 25 after insurgent attacks on security forces triggered a violent government crackdown, but the rate had slowed to about
2,000 refugees per day last week, aid agencies say.

The UN has denounced the ferocious military crackdown as ethnic cleansing.

Meanwhile, a massive cholera immunization campaign began on Tuesday near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, aimed at protecting newly-arrived Rohingya and host communities from the disease
which can be deadly, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.

Some 900,000 oral vaccine doses will be distributed, including 650,000 in an initial 10-day campaign to be followed by a second round from October 31 targeting 250,000 children between one and five years old, the agency said.

There is a “clear and present risk” of the spread of cholera among the population.

Meanwhile, Myanmar launched on Tuesday its first bid to improve relations between followers of different religions since the Rohingya crisis erupted.

Despite growing international condemnation of the refugee crisis, the military campaign is popular in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where there is little sympathy for the Rohingya, and for Muslims in general, and where Buddhist nationalism has surged in recent years.

The party of government leader Aung San Suu Kyi took the first step towards trying to calm communal animosity with inter-faith prayers at a stadium in the biggest city of Yangon, with Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and Christians.

“This is for peace and stability,” party spokesman Aung Shin told Reuters. “Peace in Rakhine and peace nationwide.”

Traffic was jammed around the stadium as Buddhist monks had nuns packed the stands inside, along with thousands of others.

The Rohingya had pinned hopes for change on Suu Kyi’s party but it has been wary of Buddhist nationalist pressure. Her party did not field a single Muslim candidate in the 2015 election that it swept.

Rohingya are not classified as an indigenous minority in Myanmar and so are denied citizenship under a law that links nationality to ethnicity.

Regarded as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, they face restrictions and discrimination and are derided by ethnic Rakhine Buddhists in Rakhine State, and by much of the wider population.

Nearly Half a Billion Dollars Needed for Rohingya Aid in Bangladesh

Rohingya

Nearly half a billion dollars in aid are needed for Rohingya Muslims, who have fled a government crackdown in Myanmar and have now sought refuge in Bangladesh, said human rights organizations that have been helping the displaced.

Some $434 million are needed over the next six months to help up to 1.2 million people, most of them children, in dire need of life-saving assistance, they added.

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 August 25 to join 300,000 Rohingya who are already there.

“The Rohingya population in Cox’s Bazar is highly vulnerable, many having experienced severe trauma, and are now living in extremely difficult conditions,” Robert Watkins, UN resident coordinator in Bangladesh, said in a statement, referring to the area where most Rohingya are living.

Bangladesh and humanitarian organizations are struggling to help the 509,000 Rohingya who have arrived since attacks by Rohingya in August triggered a Myanmar military offensive that the United Nations has branded ethnic cleansing.

Myanmar rejects the accusation.

The aid agencies’ plan factors in the possibility of another 91,000 refugees arriving, as the influx continues, Watkins said.

“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, while 24,000 pregnant women need maternity care, the agencies said.

“Massive and immediate scale-up is required to save lives,” they said. “Without immediate, adequate water, sanitation and hygiene, there will be disease outbreaks.”

The Rohingya are regarded as illegal immigrants in Buddhist-majority Myanmar and most are stateless.

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has faced scathing criticism for not doing more to stop the violence, although she has no power over the security forces under a military-drafted constitution.

She has condemned rights abuses and said Myanmar was ready to start a process agreed with Bangladesh in 1993 under which anyone verified as a refugee would be accepted back.

But many Rohingya are pessimistic about their chances of going home, partly because few have official papers confirming their residency.

Human Rights Watch said it had found evidence that the Myanmar military had summarily executed dozens of Rohingya in a village called Maung Nu in Rakhine state, on August 27.

The rights group said it had spoken to 14 survivors and witnesses who were now refugees in Bangladesh. They described how soldiers entered a compound where people had gathered in fear of military retaliation.

“They took several dozen Rohingya men and boys into the courtyard and then shot or stabbed them to death. Others were killed as they tried to flee,” said the rights group, which has accused Myanmar of crimes against humanity.

Spokesmen for the government, the military and police did not answer their telephones and were not available for comment. Wednesday is a holiday in Myanmar.

Reuters was not able to independently verify the report.

The UN committees for women’s and children’s rights called on Myanmar’s authorities on Wednesday to immediately stop violence in northern Rakhine 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.”

The United States and Britain have warned that the crisis risked derailing Myanmar’s progress in its transition to democracy after decades of military rule.

Myanmar Says Rohingya Escapees Can Return from Bangladesh

Myanmar told the United Nations refugee agency on Monday its top priority was to bring back Rohingyas who have fled to Bangladesh, but much work was needed to “consolidate stability” in its troubled northern region of Rakhine.

Win Myat Aye, Myanmar’s Union Minister, Minister of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, addressed the UN refugee agency’s (UNHCR) Executive Committee after UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi called for resolving issues related to Rohingya citizenship and rights.

“Our next immediate priority is to bring back the refugees who have fled to Bangladesh,” Win Myat Aye told the Geneva forum.

“The repatriation process can start any time for those who wish to return to Myanmar. The verification of refugees will be based on the agreement between the Myanmar and Bangladesh governments in 1993,” he said.

“Those who have been verified as refugees from this country will be accepted without any problem and with full assurance of their security and their access to human dignity.”

Bangladesh and Myanmar had agreed on Monday to set up a working group to plan the repatriation of more than half a million Rohingya Muslim refugees who have fled to Bangladesh to escape an army crackdown, Reuters cited the Bangladeshi foreign minister as saying.

The status of Rohingya remains unsettled in Myanmar where they are denied citizenship and classified as illegal immigrants, despite claiming roots in Myanmar that go back centuries, with communities marginalized and subjected to bouts of communal violence over the years.

Many refugees are gloomy about the prospects of going back to Buddhist-majority Myanmar, fearing they will not be able to furnish the documents they anticipate the government will demand to prove they have a right to return.

More than 60 Rohingya Feared Drowned in Boat Capsize

More than 60 people are believed dead after a boat carrying Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar capsized, the UN migration agency has said.

The refugees drowned in heavy seas off Bangladesh late on Thursday, part of a new surge of people fleeing a Myanmar army campaign and communal violence that the UN describes as “ethnic cleansing”.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley called on countries to ban providing weapons to Myanmar over the violence, Reuters reported.

23 human bodies have been retrieved from the water so far, but the death toll is expected to exceed 60.

“Forty are missing and presumed drowned,” IOM spokesman Joel Millman told reporters in Geneva.

Shona Miah, 32, told AFP; “My wife and two boys survived, but I lost my three daughters.”

A dire shortage of clean water, toilets and sanitation is spreading disease and pushing the camps to the precipice of a health disaster, the Red Cross warned.

“Our mobile clinics are treating more people, especially children, who are very sick from diarrhoeal diseases which are a direct result of the terrible sanitation conditions,” said Mozharul Huq, Secretary-General of the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society.

In some of the camps hundreds of refugees are sharing a single toilet, said Martin Faller, of International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

“The conditions for an outbreak of disease are all present – we have to act now and we have to act at scale,” he added.

The World Health Organization has said one of the diseases it is particularly worried about is cholera.

Boat Capsizes Killing 10 Rohingya Children Fleeing Violence

No less than 10 children and four women were killed when a boat carrying Rohingya fleeing violence in Myanmar capsized in rough seas off Bangladesh on Thursday, police said.

“They drowned before our eyes. Minutes later, the waves washed the bodies to the beach,” Mohammad Sohel, a local shopkeeper told AFP.

One distraught survivor said he had set off for Bangladesh from a coastal village in Myanmar late Wednesday with his wife, who was killed in the disaster along with one of his children.

“The boat hit something underground as it came close to the beach. Then it overturned,” Nurus Salam told AFP.

Around 120 Rohingya, many of them children, have drowned trying to reach Bangladesh in small fishing boats that coastguards say are woefully inadequate for the rough seas.

The United Nations estimates that around 480,000 have fled Myanmar’s violence-wracked Rakhine state in recent weeks after attacks by Rohingya militants on security posts prompted a military crackdown.

Local police constable Fazlul Karim told AFP 14 bodies had so far been washed ashore, and there were fears the number could rise.

UN Team to Access Myanmar’s Rakhine for 1st Time

New York- Representatives of UN agencies will be permitted to visit Rakhine state in Myanmar on Thursday for the first time since the start of a massive exodus of minority Rohingya Muslims in August.

“There will be a trip organized by the government, probably tomorrow, to Rakhine,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Wednesday.

“We hope above all that it is a first step toward much freer and wider access to the area,” he said at his daily news briefing.

He said the chiefs of UN agencies would take part in the trip.

The UN has drawn up a contingency plan to feed up to 700,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, and warned that those who fled will not be returning home soon.

“All the UN agencies together have now set a plan for a new influx of 700,000. We can cover if the new influx reaches 700,000,” the World Food Program’s deputy chief in Bangladesh, Dipayan Bhattacharyya, said on Wednesday.

UN refugee agency chief Filippo Grandi said that for those who have fled to Bangladesh – nearly half a million Rohingya refugees – “return will take time, if it happens, if the violence stops.”

The International Organization for Migration has estimated that there are more than 800,000 Rohingya currently in Bangladesh, including those who fled Myanmar before the latest crisis.  

Desperately needing more help, Bangladesh’s junior health minister Zahid Malek said Dhaka has sought US$250 million from the World Bank to provide healthcare to the Rohingya.