Bangladesh braces for new surge as Rohingya exodus nears 300,000

COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh – Nearly 300,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar's Rakhine state into Bangladesh in the 15 days since new violence erupted and the United Nations is braced for a further surge, officials said Saturday, September 9.

The exodus figure has jumped about 20,000 in a day and from 164,000 on Thursday, September 7. Bangladesh authorities plan to build a camp that could house a quarter of a million people.

"Some 290,000 Rohingya arrived in Bangladesh since August 25," Joseph Tripura, a spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency, told Agence France-Presse. (READ: Myanmar 'to provide aid' to displaced Rohingya inside country)

New violence started on August 25 after Rohingya militants attacked police posts in Rakhine, triggering a security forces crackdown. Those who have fled across the border have accused the Myanmar military of staging reprisal attacks on Muslim villages.

Officials said the UN has found more Rohingya in Bangladesh villages and areas which were previously not included by relief agencies.

Agencies are now bracing for a new increase in numbers. (READ: The Rohingya and the port of last resort)

Dipayan Bhattacharyya, acting World Food Programme (WFP) head in Bangladesh, told AFP "the situation is very volatile."

He added: "We started with planning for an influx of 120,000. Then we made a resource planning for 300,000. The current influx has almost now reached 300,000. Now the WFP and the other UN agencies on the ground may have to review it again if the influx continues unabated."

Desperate and hungry 

Hungry Rohingya are running towards every food truck that arrives in the camps.

Highlighting the uncertainty, Bhattacharyya said: "People are very desperate to get whatever assistance they can get in terms of food, shelter and water. They are deprived of everything. They are desperate for just basic survival."

The WFP started distributing 25-kilogram rice sacks to families who have just arrived. (READ: Food aid suspended as Myanmar state sinks deeper into violence)

Most of the Rohingya are arriving by foot or boat across Bangladesh's 278 kilometer (172 mile) border with Myanmar, a 4th of which is made up by the Naf river.

The Rohingya have long been subjected to discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, which denies them citizenship. (READ: Rohingya boat people: Silence not the answer)

Myanmar's government regards them as illegal migrants from Bangladesh, even if they have lived in the country for generations.

Refugee camps near Bangladesh's border with Myanmar already had about 300,000 Rohingya before the upsurge in violence last month and are now overwhelmed.

Tens of thousands of new arrivals have nowhere to shelter from monsoon rains.

The latest figure takes the number of Rohingya refugees who have arrived in Bangladesh since earlier violence erupted last October to 377,000.

Those flocking into Bangladesh have given harrowing accounts of killings, rape and arson by Myanmar's army. Myanmar authorities deny any wrongdoing.

Most have walked for days and the United Nations says many are sick, exhausted and in desperate need of shelter. (READ: FAST FACTS: Who are the Rohingya?)

Bangladesh authorities on Saturday asked the International Organization for Migration to build a new makeshift camp, a government official told AFP.

The authorities fear that the Rohingya could move to other parts of Bangladesh which would create new problems.

"All the newly arrived Rohingya will be brought in this makeshift camp and housed," Cox's Bazar magistrate Khaled Mahmud told AFP, adding they were already moving Rohingya who took shelter on the roads.

A Bangladesh minister said the government had decided to create a huge new camp on nearly 2,000 acres of land near an existing UN facility.

"The land we've identified for the camp will accommodate 250,000 to 300,000 people," Mofazzal Hossain Chowdhury, disaster management and relief minister, told AFP.

He added that new arrivals will be registered and given aid.

Dhaka has repeatedly asked Myanmar to take back the Rohingya and address the causes of exodus.– Rappler.com