LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Thousands of Rohingya Muslims crossed into Bangladesh this week, adding to the more than 600,000 who earlier fled violence in Myanmar, in a fast-growing humanitarian crisis that aid agencies warn risks spiraling out of control.
Men, women and children who fled what the United Nations has called a campaign of ethnic cleansing are living in overcrowded camps lacking basics such as food and water and facing escalating violence and worsening health risks.
Here are the views of some leading aid officials on the estimated 817,000 Rohingya refugees now living in the southern most district of Bangladesh and their most pressing needs:
BOB KITCHEN, DIRECTOR OF THE INTERNATIONAL RESCUE COMMITTEE’S (IRC) EMERGENCY RESPONSE UNIT
- “The refugees are in urgent need of emergency shelter, food, access to clean water and sanitation, healthcare, protection and mental health support. Half of pregnant women have not received medical care, two-thirds do not know where to go for help.
Overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions, and the absence of safe, clean water for refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, means that the threat of cholera and other disease outbreaks looms large.”
MARK KAYE, MEMBER OF SAVE THE CHILDREN’S HUMANITARIAN RESPONSE TEAM IN BANGLADESH
- “Many children wander the narrow muddy streets between the makeshift shelters by themselves. They live in conditions no child should live in, many suffer from illnesses such as diarrhea and skin diseases.
There are tens of thousands of people still sleeping out in the open or under makeshift shelters, there is dirty, contaminated water everywhere, and poor nutrition and hygiene levels.
This has sparked growing concern of an outbreak of water-borne diseases. Any outbreak in large and overcrowded places like these could spread quickly and would be potentially catastrophic.”
ELHADJ AS SY, SECRETARY GENERAL OF THE INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION OF The RED CROSS AND RED CRESCENT SOCIETIES (IFRC)
- “The needs here are enormous. People are arriving hungry, frightened and exhausted.
What particularly struck me was that this is in many ways a crisis of children. There are 300,000 children living here in these camps. They are losing their childhood. There are children carrying younger ones around, children carting sacks of rice and bamboo, they are not able to simply be what they are – children.”
- “The refugee settlements are incredibly precarious. They look like makeshift shelters made of mud and plastic sheeting, fixed together with bamboo and scattered across little hilltops.
There are almost no services available and the vulnerability of people’s living conditions is shocking. Whole families are living under plastic sheeting in muddy and flood-prone terrain.
They have very few belongings, are vulnerable to attacks from elephants, and have no access to clean water, latrines, food, or health care.”
Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org