The United Nations braced yesterday for a possible "further exodus" of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar into Bangladesh, UN humanitarian aid chief said.
Some 5,15,000 Rohingyas have arrived in Bangladesh from Myanmar's western state of Rakhine in an unrelenting movement of people that began after security forces responded to Rohingya militant attacks with a brutal crackdown.
"This flow of people of Myanmar hasn't stopped yet. Obviously there's into the hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas still in Myanmar, and we want to be ready in case there is a further exodus," Mark Lowcock, UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, told a news briefing in Geneva.
An estimated 2,000 Rohingyas are arriving in Bangladesh every day, Joel Millman of the International Organisation for Migration, told a separate briefing.
There may be up to 1,00,000 more people in northern Rakhine waiting to cross into Bangladesh, according to the organisation.
Myanmar officials have said they attempted to reassure groups trying to flee to Bangladesh but could not stop people who were not citizens from leaving.
The official Myanmar News Agency said yesterday that "large numbers" of Muslims were preparing to cross the border. It cited their reasons as "livelihood difficulties", health problems, a "belief" of insecurity and fear of becoming a minority.
LACK OF ACCESS
Myanmar has blocked most access to the conflict-torn area, although some agencies have offices open in towns there and the International Committee of the Red Cross is helping the Myanmar Red Cross to deliver aid.
Lowcock reiterated an appeal for access to the population in northern Rakhine, saying, "The access we have in northern Rakhine State is unacceptable."
Lowcock repeated the UN's call for the Myanmar government to allow "unhindered [and] unfettered" access and said he believed "a high level" UN team would be able to visit the area "in the next few days".
He added that talks between Myanmar and Bangladesh on a repatriation plan were a useful first step. "But there is clearly a long way to go."
UN-led aid bodies have appealed for $434 million over six months to help up to 1.2 million people, including 3,00,000 Rohingyas already in Bangladesh before the latest crisis and 3,00,000 Bangladeshi villagers in so-called host communities, reports Reuters.
Also yesterday, EU President Donald Tusk urged Myanmar to adhere to its international rights obligations and allow Rohingya refugees to return.
Tusk said Myanmar must give aid workers access to the troubled state of Rakhine.
The EU chief made the comments after talks with Indian leaders in New Delhi, which he said was first in line to respond to the refugee crisis as a neighbouring country.
"The EU continues to assume its responsibilities by receiving people in need of protection and by assisting host countries close to the conflict zones," he said after the talks.
"We addressed the situation in Myanmar and the Rohingya refugee crisis. We want to see de-escalation of tension and the full adherence to international human rights obligations as well as full humanitarian access so the aid can reach those in need."
Tusk made his comments at the end of the 14th EU-India Summit, at which the two sides also discussed a long delayed trade agreement, reports AFP.
Southeast Asian leaders must take urgent steps to address grave human rights violations against the Rohingyas, Amnesty International said in a letter sent to the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) today.
The letter, signed by directors of 13 Amnesty offices across the Asia-Pacific region, called for an emergency Asean summit to deal with the human rights and humanitarian crisis in northern Rakhine State.
Asean's only response to the crisis so far has been a bland statement -- issued on September 24, almost a month after the atrocities in Rakhine State had begun -- expressing “concern” about the situation, and failing to even mention the word “Rohingya”.
Amnesty's letter says this response “does not go far enough” and adds: “What is required is a much more significant response from Asean to the crisis in Myanmar.”
James Gomez, Amnesty International's Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said: “Asean is failing to take a stand as one of its member states carries out a violent campaign of ethnic cleansing.
“Governments in the region must uphold the commitments to human rights enshrined in the Asean Charter, commitments which Myanmar's military is showing clear contempt for as they perpetrate crimes against humanity against the Rohingya.”
UNHCR SEEKS ADDITIONAL FUNDS
UNHCR is urgently seeking $83.7 million in additional funds for the next six months to help the more than half a million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.
“UNHCR is concerned about the continuing influx from Myanmar and stresses once again the need for the root causes to be addressed. Delivery and improving conditions remains our utmost priority,” said UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic at a press briefing in Geneva yesterday.
He said the emergency assistance is focused on refugee protection, shelter, water and sanitation and bolstering the capacity of the local host communities across south-east Bangladesh.