• ‘Alarming number’ of 270,000 Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar exodus
  • Sr UN rep says more than 1,000 people may already have been killed
It is incongruous for a symbol of righteousness [Suu Kyi] to lead such a country; it is adding to our pain - Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu

Sep 9, 2017-The UN said on Friday that an “alarming number” of 270,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled violence in Myanmar by crossing into Bangladesh in the last two weeks.

The new figure confirmed Friday by UN Refugee Agency spokeswoman Vivian Tan is much higher than the 164,000 the agency had previously estimated had arrived since August 25.

“This is an alarming number,” Tan said. 

“The existing camps are full to the capacity. There is a lot of pressure on relief agencies to accommodate the rising numbers.” She said the new number was still a “rough estimate,” and based on an assessment that involved a host of aid agencies operating in the area. Some aid groups also had identified “new pockets of people that we did not know about before, mainly in villages” where Bangladeshi communities had taken them in, but also some new settlements and clusters in difficult-to-access areas.

Makeshift camps were quickly appearing and expanding along roadsides, Tan said. She said it was possible some people who received help from multiple agencies could have been counted twice.

The exodus from Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state began on August 25 after Rohingya insurgents attacked police posts. The military responded with what it called “clearance operations” to root out any fighters it said might be hiding in villages of Rakhine state.

The Myanmar government says nearly 400 people have been killed in fighting it blames on insurgents, though Rohingya say they Myanmar troops and Buddhist mobs attacked them and destroyed their villages. A senior United Nations representative said on Friday more than 1,000 people may already have been killed in Myanmar, mostly minority Rohingya Muslims—more than twice the government’s total, urging Aung San Suu Kyi to speak out.

On the basis of witness testimonies and the pattern of previous outbreaks of violence, said Yanghee Lee, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, “perhaps about a thousand or more are already dead”. “This might be from both sides but it would be heavily concentrated on the Rohingya population.”

It’s not known how many Rohingya remain in Rakhine state. Previously the population had been thought to be roughly 1 million.

Associated Press reporters who have been in Rohingya camps all week saw a surge in the number of people entering Bangladesh on Thursday and Friday.

Tan, of the refugee agency, said it was distributing aid through a local organization that preferred to keep a low profile.

UN agencies have released $8 million in emergency aid in the area, but were pleading for millions more.

Suu Kyi, who spent years under house arrest when Myanmar was a military dictatorship, is now the country’s de facto leader with the title of State Counsellor. She has faced criticism for failing to condemn the violence, leaving her global reputation in tatters.

Earlier this week Suu Kyi, 72, condemned a “huge iceberg of misinformation” on the crisis, without mentioning the Rohingya flocking to Bangladesh.

On Thursday she told Indian news agency ANI the situation in Rakhine was “one of the biggest challenges that we’ve had to face”. 

Rights groups, activists—including many who campaigned for her in the past—and her fellow Nobel laureates Malala Yousafzai and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have condemned her. In a letter Tutu told his “dearly beloved younger sister” that “the images we are seeing of the suffering of the Rohingya fill us with pain and dread”. “It is incongruous for a symbol of righteousness to lead such a country; it is adding to our pain,” he added.

Published: 09-09-2017 07:22

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