More than half a million Rohingya children could be in Bangladesh by year’s end
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More than half a million Rohingya children could be in Bangladesh by year’s end

INTERNATIONAL non-profit Save The Children has warned that 600,000 Rohingya children could be in Bangladesh by the end of 2017 as the result of violence in Rakhine State, Burma (Myanmar).

According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), more than 400,000 people have fled Burma since Aug 25 into Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, of which the UN estimates around 60 percent are children. Save The Children reports around 1,100 of these are separated or unaccompanied.

Violence broke out three weeks ago when the militant group Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) launched attacks on police and military posts that killed at least 12 Burmese officials. The Tatmadaw military of Burma has been accused of launching a wildly disproportionate response.

SEE ALSO: Rohingya militants deny links to Al Qaeda, Islamic State

The UN has said the situation is a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” and has condemned reports of security forces burning Rohingya villages, extrajudicial killings, and shooting civilians attempting to flee.

There now a total of around 600,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, living primarily in squalid makeshift camps. Aid groups have said the number could rise to one million by the end of the year.

Hundreds of thousands of children

“The scale of the influx of Rohingya arriving in Cox’s Bazar is unprecedented and it’s putting huge stress on host communities and humanitarian agencies,” said Save the Children’s Country Director in Bangladesh, Mark Pierce.

“Many people are arriving hungry, exhausted and with no food or water, having left their homes in fear of their lives. I’m particularly worried that the demand for food, shelter, water and basic hygiene support is not being met due to the sheer number of people in need.”

Members of the Rohingya Muslim minority have been arriving in Bangladesh since the early 1990s, and some 63,000 live amongst host communities there.

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A Rohingya refugee walks past a makeshift camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, September 17, 2017. Source: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui

SEE ALSO: Rohingya crisis a ‘textbook example’ of ethnic cleansing

“Local communities have been extremely accommodating, often welcoming the Rohingya into their homes and sharing precious food and water,” said Pierce, calling for greater international assistance for the humanitarian effort.

“Aid agencies are doing all they can to help, however the humanitarian response needs to be rapidly scaled up, and that can only be done if the international community steps up funding.”

UNICEF announced on Monday that it would launch an immunisation campaign to assist Rohingya children against measles, rubella and polio.

“Measles is a very infectious and dangerous disease during emergencies, especially for children who are already weak and malnourished,” said Edouard Beigbeder, UNICEF’s Representative in Bangladesh.

“With thousands of children crossing the border every day, vaccination is crucial to prevent the spread of potentially deadly diseases.”

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A Rohingya refugee boy walks down a hill with metal pitchers at a makeshift camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, September 17, 2017. Source: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui

Scorched earth

Satellite images from HRW and Amnesty International appear to show that more than 100 Rohingya villages have been destroyed since Aug 25, in what the rights groups allege is an “orchestrated campaign” against the Muslim minority by security forces and vigilante groups.

“The evidence is irrefutable – the Myanmar security forces are setting northern Rakhine State ablaze in a targeted campaign to push the Rohingya people out of Myanmar. Make no mistake: this is ethnic cleansing,” said Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s Crisis Response Director.

Officials in Naypyidaw deny the allegations, however, maintaining that Rohingya have destroyed their own villages including burning their own homes.

Bangladesh’s government, meanwhile, has said that 3,000 Rohingya had been killed in Burma and that the situation is comparable to genocide.

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Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi talks during a news conference with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Naypyitaw, Myanmar September 6, 2017. Source: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun

Call for sanctions

With the UN General Assembly holding its annual meeting in New York this week, HRW has called upon the Security Council to impose sanctions and an arms embargo on the Burmese military in order to end what it called “ethnic cleansing.”

The rights group said that the Security Council should impose a travel ban and asset freeze on those responsible for “grave abuses” and urgently put in place a “comprehensive arms embargo” against Burma. China, India, Russia and Israel are amongst the largest arms sellers to the Tatmadaw.

Burma’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi – who has been widely criticised for her silence over violence against Rohingya – will address the Burmese people on Tuesday.

SEE ALSO: Stop looking to Suu Kyi for a solution – she’s the problem

The Secretary General of the UN Antonio Guterres told the BBC in an interview on Sunday that that it was a “last chance” for the country’s de facto leader to “reverse the situation”. Suu Kyi still has an opportunity to “make sure the carnage stops,” he said.

“Burmese security forces are committing ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya and disregarding the condemnation of world leaders,” said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at HRW.

“The time has come to impose tougher measures that Burma’s generals cannot ignore.”