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UNHCR concerned over Rohingyas' desperate attempts to flee Myanmar

A woman sobs after she lost two little sons amid the hubbub of Rohingyas gathering to collect relief at Balukhali in Photo: Star file photos/Anisur Rahmn

As more than 30 makeshift rafts carrying over 1,000 Rohingyas arrived in Bangladesh in the past 10 days, the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, says it is concerned at the growing number of people resorting to desperate means to flee Myanmar.

Unable to pay to cross the Naaf River that forms the border, the Rohingyas were building rafts from whatever materials they could find, such as bamboo poles and jerrycans tied together with rope and covered with plastic sheets, UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler told a press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva on Friday.

"More than two hundred Rohingyas are known to have drowned in shipwrecks and boat incidents since the start of the crisis on 25 August," Spindler said, adding: "Recent arrivals told us they had been waiting for more than a month in desperate conditions on Myanmar's shores. Food and water are said to be running low."

An estimated 620,000 Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh since 25 August.

Spindler said that, despite efforts to provide more aid and services, overcrowding and difficult living conditions in the camps and makeshift sites increased health, sanitation and fire risks, as well as violence and trafficking.

"There is an urgent need for additional land and more space for shelters and infrastructure to provide life-saving services and aid including water points, latrines, bathing areas, distribution points, child safe and friendly spaces, safe spaces for women and girls, community centres, etcetera," he added.

So far, UNHCR has delivered hundreds of thousands of aid items including tents, plastic sheeting, blankets, sleeping mats, mosquito nets, kitchen sets, buckets and jerrycans.

Talking to UNHCR in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, some 70 families who arrived this week said they fled extortion and harassment in Buthidaung, in Myanmar's Rakhine state.

One man said uniformed men threatened to seize their belongings. "My uncle and my grandfather rejected their orders to share their belongings, so they were detained," he said. "My family and I fled, so we did not end up in jail."

They walked through a hilly area to reach Dong Khali Chor island from where they could sail to Bangladesh. During the journey, they were stopped at a military checkpoint. "They took everything. We left with nothing but the clothes on our backs," the man added.

"We decided to leave at night because the tide was high, so we could reach Bangladesh faster and avoid the sun in the day time," said Sidiq, 37, who arrived with his wife and five children aged one to 12. The raft carried 34 people, more than half of them children.


(c) 2017 Rohingya Crisis

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