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Bangladesh Struggles with Growing Numbers of Rohingya Refugees

2017-9-6

Bangladesh says it is struggling to build camps for the huge number of Rohingya fleeing violence in Myanmar.

United Nations officials estimate that more than 120,000 people have arrived in southeastern Bangladesh over the past two weeks. Refugees started flooding across the border after violence started in Myanmar’s Rakhine state on August 25.

The fighting began after a group called Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army launched attacks on police positions in Rakhine. Myanmar’s military answered the attacks with it calls “clearance operations.”

Officials reported last week that at least 400 people have been killed.

Myanmar security forces and militias linked to them have been accused of targeting Rohingya civilians in mass killings.

Rakhine state is home to most of the Rohingya, many of whom are Muslim. Myanmar’s government considers them illegal immigrants. The Rohingya, however, say they are a minority group and have roots in the country, also called Burma, going back hundreds of years.

“They have been coming and coming,” Lt. Col. Ariful Islam, a Bangladeshi border commander, told the BenarNews website. He added, “We are trying to convince them to stay at their homeland, Rakhine, but it is not always working.”

A Rohingya child, newly arrived from Myanmar on the Bangladesh side of the border, stands by a wooden fence at Kutupalong refugee camp in Ukhia, Sept. 5, 2017.
A Rohingya child, newly arrived from Myanmar on the Bangladesh side of the border, stands by a wooden fence at Kutupalong refugee camp in Ukhia, Sept. 5, 2017.

Before the latest fighting, at least 400,000 Rohingya who fled earlier violence were already living in refugee camps and settlements in southeastern Bangladesh.

Bangladeshi officials said the country plans to set up shelters for arriving refugees. No date was given for opening the new camp, which is to be set up near an established camp that has held more than 50,000 Rohingya since October.

An official with the U.N. refugee agency, Duniya Aslam Khan, said the existing refugee camps in Bangladesh are now “at a breaking point.”

“Refugees who are arriving in Bangladesh are arriving in desperate conditions. They have been walking for three days. Many of them have not eaten since they have fled. They need medicine, they need emergency shelter, they need food, they need clean drinking water.”

She added that most of the refugees are women, children and older adults. U.N. aid agencies are currently trying to raise at least $18 million to help meet the needs of new refugees.

In the past, Myanmar’s leader, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, has condemned attacks on Rohingya. But the Nobel Peace Prize winner has been criticized for not doing more to halt the violence. U.N. officials have urged her to call for a ceasefire.

In a statement posted to her Facebook page Wednesday, she said the people of Myanmar know very well what it means “to be deprived of human rights and democratic protection.” She added the government is committed to protecting the rights of all people and also providing “humanitarian defense.”

However, Aung San Suu Kyi also said there had been "a huge iceberg of misinformation" about the violence in Rakhine state.

Her statement said she spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about the crisis. It said they talked about a series of photographs posted on Twitter by Turkey's deputy prime minister. The photos – which were later removed - reportedly showed dead Rohingya. But they were later proven to be fake and not related to the current violence.

Rights group Amnesty International condemned Aung Suu Kyi’s statement.

"In her first comments on the crisis, instead of promising concrete action to protect the people in Rakhine state, Aung San Suu Kyi appears to be downplaying the horrific reports coming out of the area,” said Tirana Hassan, the group’s Crisis Response Director.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this for VOA Learning English. His report was based on reports from VOANews, Reuters, the Associated Press and Radio Free Asia. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

desperate – adj. in great need of something

deprive v. not allow someone to have something

iceberg – n. a large piece of ice floating in the ocean

fake – adj. not real, false

concrete adj. related to specific things or actions