UN, EU voice concerns as 270,000 refugees enter Bangladesh


Refugees assist an elderly woman as they enter Bangladesh near the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Teknaf, Bangladesh, 4 September 2017. Photo: EPA

Refugees assist an elderly woman as they enter Bangladesh near the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Teknaf, Bangladesh, 4 September 2017. Photo: EPA

Observers from the United Nations and the European Union have voiced alarm over the humanitarian disaster unfolding in northern Rakhine State.

Some 270,000 refugees have fled Myanmar's violence-wracked Rakhine state and entered Bangladesh in the last fortnight, most from the Muslim Rohingya minority, the United Nations said Friday.

"An estimated 270,000 refugees arrived in Bangladesh in the last two weeks," said Vivian Tan, a spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency.

"They are setting up shelters on the roads or whatever empty space they could find," she told AFP.

The UN said an overnight leap in the estimated number of arrivals was because of a more thorough assessment in areas not previously included in its counting.

On Thursday it had put the number at 164,000.

Meanwhile, more than 1,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the violence, according to the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar.  

On the basis of witness testimonies and the pattern of previous outbreaks of violence, said Yanghee Lee, the UN special rapporteur, "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," she said.

Existing refugee camps near Bangladesh's border with Myanmar already hosted around 300,000 Rohingya before the latest upsurge in violence and are now completely overwhelmed.

That has left tens of thousands of new arrivals with nowhere to shelter from the monsoon rains. 

The latest figure takes the number of Rohingya refugees who have arrived in Bangladesh since violence erupted last October to 357,000. This amounts to roughly a third of the estimated 1.1 million population of this Muslim minority that lives in Myanmar. 

Thousands of Rakhine Buddhists are reported to have fled the violence to towns or to Sittwe.

In a statement issued by the European Union’s High Representative and Vice-President Federica Mogherini concern was voiced about a situation that needs full attention.

The following is her statement in full:

“The situation in Northern Rakhine State in Myanmar is extremely serious and has our full attention. Today, I was in touch with the Foreign Minister of Indonesia, Retno Marsudi, following her visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh, and through our European Union Delegation in Yangon and elsewhere, we are in close contact with the authorities in Myanmar, in the region and beyond. 
“The European Union is committed to supporting the Government of Myanmar and all stakeholders in finding sustainable solutions towards lasting peace, stability and prosperity, for the benefit of the whole population.

“As the European Union, we condemn the attacks on 25 August on Myanmar security forces in Northern Rakhine State and the subsequent violence, and we expect the perpetrators to be brought to justice in line with the rule of law. The security forces involved in ongoing operations have a duty to exercise maximum restraint and to protect unarmed civilians.

“There is an urgent need for a de-escalation of tensions, on all sides, and for full observance of international human rights law. Unrestricted humanitarian access, including for aid workers, is essential in order to reach those who desperately need it. The European Union stands in solidarity with the Bangladeshi authorities, who have played a crucial humanitarian role in welcoming the refugees who have arrived as a result of the crisis.

“The Government of Myanmar has committed to implementing the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State. This should be done without delay and with full determination. The European Union offers its full support in practical terms to the Government's implementation of the recommendations, which is the way to avoid the further deterioration of the situation and to move forward.”

Reporting by AFP/UN/Mizzima/EU

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