‘This is a true crisis’: UN calls for shelter for Rohingya fleeing violence
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‘This is a true crisis’: UN calls for shelter for Rohingya fleeing violence

UNITED NATIONS officials have called the situation in Rakhine State a “true crisis” as some 73,000 women, children and men have fled Burma (Myanmar) for Bangladesh since violence broke out between the army and Rohingya militants 12 days ago.

Several overcrowded refugee camps established in the 1990s have been flooded with newcomers the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said in a statement on Monday. It has urged Bangladesh and other countries to open their borders to those fleeing the conflict.

It said the Kutupalong camp alone has seen an estimated 20,000 since fighting began on Aug 25, after the militant group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) reportedly unleashed attacks at around 30 police posts with homemade explosives, knives and sticks.

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Rohingya refugee girl cooks a meal in an open place near Balukhali in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, on Sept 4, 2017. Source: Reuters/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

“Many are hungry, in poor physical condition and in need of life-saving support,” UNHCR said. The agency said it had established tarpaulin-covered structures in the camps to provide temporary shelter but that “even these facilities are reaching saturation point.”

“This is a true crisis. The number of people has more than doubled in the camps,” said Mohammad Abul Kalam, Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

“Kutupalong camp is beyond capacity. Every family has taken in new arrivals, every available space is occupied. I’m not sure how long we can sustain this.”

The UNHCR said it was working with local authorities to register new arrivals and provide medical assistance to those in need.

The World Food Program (WFP) and Action Against Hunger are reportedly distributing high energy biscuits and hot meals to the new arrivals in Bangladesh.

WFP confirmed on Saturday had been forced to suspend food distribution in central Rakhine State last week due to “ongoing security challenges.”

The organisation said that this had left 250,000 people without regular food assistance, and hopes to “resume distributions as soon as possible.” It has previously said that more than 80,000 children in the northern Rakhine are in a situation of “extreme” food insecurity.

Burma’s government has repeatedly accused international NGOs of aiding ARSA which it brands “extremist terrorists.”

A coalition of 15 NGOs including Save the Children, Oxfam and the International Rescue Committee rejected the accusation in a statement and called upon Burma to allow aid organisations to access populations in need.

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“In this moment of crisis, we call on the government to re-establish access to conflict-affected areas to ensure the delivery of life-saving services, and to safeguard the health and security of humanitarian workers providing assistance to affected communities,” it said.

“Bangladesh should open the border to refugees and coordinate with humanitarian organisations to prepare for a large influx,” Fortify Rights CEO Matthew Smith said on Friday.

“It’s imperative that Bangladesh allows refugees across the border to avoid a further loss of life.”