Monsoon threatens tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees: UN

Delhi, IndiaUpdated: Apr 28, 2018, 01:45 PM IST

File photo of Rohingya refugees in Delhi. Photograph:(Reuters)

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Almost a million Rohingya refugees live in Cox's Bazar under tarpaulins, on steep, sandy slopes 25,000 of whom are said to be at the highest risk of landslides

The UN has said that lives of tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees hang in the balance as monsoon and cyclone seasons threaten their makeshift camps in Bangladesh.

According to the UN estimates, nearly 700,000 minority Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh to escape violence in Myanmar's Rakhine State since August 25 last year when the army launched a military crackdown.

Myanmar does not recognise Rohingya as an ethnic group and insists that they are Bangladeshi migrants living illegally in the country.

The United Nations migration agency -- the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) -- appealed for urgent financial support to prepare the area in southern Bangladesh against floods and landslides.

Without new funding, tens of thousands of people in the camps, fleeing violence triggered in Myanmar last August, will be at risk, the IOM said.

"We cannot wait for funding to come in after the emergency is over and possibly preventable tragedies have occurred," said John McCue, IOM's Senior Operations Coordinator in Cox's Bazar.

"We need to be able to act now if lives are to be saved," he said.

Almost a million Rohingya refugees live in Cox's Bazar under tarpaulins, on steep, sandy slopes 25,000 of whom are said to be at the highest risk of landslides.

Without aid, numerous refugees will have to remain in these hazardous locations and hundreds of thousands of others will also be at risk if roads become impassible, blocking access to aid supplies and medical services.

"Tarp stocks are also rapidly running out and the IOM, which oversees shelter distribution, reports that by mid-May supplies will fall below critical levels," McCue said.

He said that without more funding, neither new shelters nor replacements would be available to those who lost homes during storms.

He also pointed out that other risks included safe water supply systems, which if collapsed could put hundreds of thousands of refugees in jeopardy of waterborne diseases.

Only nine per cent of a USD 951 million joint agency response plan has been secured. Of that, USD 182 million allocated to provide Cox's Bazar with assistance through December 2018 is facing a shortfall of almost USD 151 million.

Aid staff on the ground are working to improve shelters, secure key access roads and have emergency response services ready should the worst happens, "but the harsh truth is that we cannot keep doing that if we do not have the funds," McCue said.

The IOM, the World Food Programme and the UN refugee agency are working alongside the Bangladesh government and others to manage the scale of the response in Cox's Bazar the world's biggest refugee settlement.

"If significant funding is not secured in the next few weeks to keep operations running, there is a high likelihood that many children, women and men may die, when they could have otherwise been saved," McCue said.

The Security Council members are making their way to the region.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the overall population of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh is currently estimated to be over one million.

New refugees are still arriving, with some 8,000 new arrivals since January 2018, he said.

The latest round of food distribution reached over 470,000 people and humanitarian partners on the ground also conduct protection monitoring missions to support survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, Dujarric said.

To date, the joint response plan for the Rohingya humanitarian crisis, launched in mid-March, is only nine per cent funded.

It requests USD 951 million to help respond to the needs of some 1.3 million people, both Rohingya refugees and vulnerable members of the host community, until December 2018.

The UN described the atrocities by the Myanmar military on Rohingya refugees as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing while the rights groups called it a genocide.

Buddhist-majority Myanmar, however, rejects the charge, saying its security forces launched a counter-insurgency operation on August 25 in response to Rohingya militant attacks.