UN airlifts aid to Bangladesh as Rohingya refugee count soars

Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh: The United Nations announced a major operation on Tuesday to airlift aid to the 370,000 Rohingya Muslims who have fled to Bangladesh to escape the deadly violence in Myanmar.
In the first of several planned flights, a Boeing 777 chartered by the UN Refugee Agency brought 91 tonnes of shelter material, blankets and other items to Cox’s Bazar, near the border with Myanmar’s troubled Rakhine state.
Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Tuesday promised food aid and shelters for the minority Rohingya, while asking Myanmar to repatriate those who fled the ethnic violence that erupted on August 25 in the country.
“It is difficult, but we have arranged shelters for them (Rohingya) on humanitarian grounds to the best of our ability. We will remain by their side,” Hasina said after visiting the Kutupalong refugee camp.
Hasina urged the international community to raise pressure on Myanmar to take back the Rohingya and ensure their security as citizens.
“We cannot tolerate any injustice. Myanmar must repatriate its people,” she said. But Myanmar has reportedly laid landmines on the border and has told the stateless and marginalised Rohingya community that refugees will need proof of citizenship if they wish to return.
The UN said on Tuesday it estimates 370,000 refugees have fled since the latest outbreak of violence, up from the previous day’s estimate of 313,000.
With the latest influx, Bangladesh is now hosting more than 700,000 undocumented Rohingya Muslims on humanitarian grounds. Among them, 400,000 were driven away by the Burmese military in the 1990s.
Hasina distributed relief goods among the newly arrived refugees and listened to them describe the atrocities they faced in Myanmar, where security forces have launched a security operation after Rohingya militants attacked police stations.
She flew to Cox’s Bazar from Dhaka in the morning to review the conditions in the camps and outside, a district official said. The existing refugee camps have been stretched beyond capacity.
Hundreds of thousands have been staying along roadsides and in nearby forests and hills since they crossed the border. The Myanmar Red Cross is preparing to assist the government in delivering aid to civilians trapped in conflict-ridden Rakhine, the organisation said on Tuesday.
Diplomats say the Myanmar government has invited the Red Cross to cooperate because the UN is perceived locally as favouring the Rohingya.
“We are now planning and preparing; we are going to have details on the areas soon,” said Shwe Sin Kyaw Soe, head of communications at the Myanmar Red Cross Society.
She did not specify whether the plan would include Muslim villages.
Many Rohingya are still believed to be struggling towards the Bangladesh border, undergoing an arduous journey with little food orwater.
Bangladesh plans to raise the Rohingya issue at next week’s UN General Assembly to ask Myanmar to take back its nationals and ensure their security.  — dpa