Aboard rickety boats or swimming, over 750 Rohingya reach Bangladesh

Aboard rickety boats or swimming, over 750 Rohingya reach Bangladesh

By Tommy Wilkes and Simon Cameron-Moore

COX’S BAZAR/YANGON (Reuters) – They came in boats, others on flimsy rafts, some even swam. Around 750 Rohingya Muslims made their escape from Myanmar on Friday to reach Bangladesh, where the greatest danger is malnutrition and disease in teeming refugee camps.

Over 613,000 Rohingya have already taken refuge in the camps since a Myanmar military clearance operation forced them to abandon their villages in northern Rakhine State.

Rohingya who have reached Bangladesh have recounted horror stories of rape and murder. A top U.N. official described the military’s actions as “ethnic cleansing”, though Myanmar denied that, saying its operation was needed for national security after Rohingya militants attacked 30 security posts on Aug. 25.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar’s less than two-year-old administration, was in Vietnam on Friday, attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit. She was expected to hold talks with several leaders on the sidelines of the gathering, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Having won the Nobel Peace Prize for defying the generals who ruled predominantly Buddhist Myanmar with an iron fist for nearly half a century, Suu Kyi’s reputation as a stateswoman has suffered due to her failure to speak out more strongly over the Rohingya crisis.

Under a constitution written before the junta gave way, the civilian administration still has to share power with the generals, and has little say over defense and security issues.

Still, leaders at APEC, and two other regional summits to be hosted by the Philippines in the coming days, are expected to exert pressure on Suu Kyi to do more to stem the crisis.

And on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will meet with Suu Kyi in Naypyitaw, the Myanmar capital, with senators back in Washington pressing to impose sanctions targeting the military.

International Rescue Committee, the leading aid agency headquartered in New York and led by former British foreign minister David Miliband, reckoned that up to two-thirds of the 300,000 Rohingya remaining in Myanmar will join the exodus to Bangladesh in the coming months.

The IRC in a statement highlighted the extremely dangerous health conditions for Rohingya living in camps in the port city of Cox’s Bazar.

A nutrition survey led by its partner Action Contre la Faim had found 40,000 Rohingya children faced malnutrition and required life-saving assistance.

It said 95 percent of the population was drinking contaminated water – and agencies had reported that two-thirds of Cox’s Bazar’s water was contaminated with faeces.

“The conditions we are seeing in Cox’s Bazaar create a perfect storm for a public health crisis on an unimaginable scale,” said Cat Mahony, the IRC’s emergency response director in Cox’s Bazar.

“The situation will only deteriorate with more arrivals and a greater strain on already overstretched resources.”

Trail of destruction: http://tmsnrt.rs/2y8FgQ8


Still, Rohingya too scared to stay in Myanmar were ready to risk their lives crossing the waters around the mouth of the Naf river to reach Bangladesh.

They were helped on Friday by another day of calm seas, though more than 200 have drowned attempting the crossing during the past two months.

Bangladesh officials said significant numbers were arriving on rafts they had built from bamboo, lashing plastic jerrycans to the poles for extra buoyancy. They said more Rohingya had swum across on Thursday.

A Reuters photographer saw up to ten rafts landing on the beaches of Teknaf, at the southern tip of Cox’s Bazar, on Friday.

People reaching the shore have told Reuters that there are thousands living in desperate conditions on the strand of beach by the river’s mouth at Pa Nyaung Pin Gyi, as they waited for a chance to cross over.

Dil Muhammad, 30, from Buthidaung, one of the Rakhine regions that bore the brunt of the military operation, finally made it across with his wife and three children after weeks of living on the sand because he could not afford to pay a boatman.

“I stayed in Pa Nyaung Pin Gyi for two months because I didn’t have money to come,” he told Reuters.

Dil Mohammed said his 18 month old daughter was suffering from diarrhea and a fever. “I couldn’t get to a doctor as we were stuck in that place.”

And Sakhina Khatun, a woman of 35, said that three men who had been with her on the other side had been attacked by “Buddhists” when they went to search for bamboo to make a raft.

Border Guard Bangladesh officials counted 444 refugees coming ashore at Sabrang, near Teknaf, and 150 more arriving further along the coast.

Afruzul Haque Tutul, additional superintendent of police in Cox’s Bazar said his officers had rescued 125 Rohingya from a wooden fishing boat stranded off Inani beach and bussed them to the camps.

Mass exodus: http://tmsnrt.rs/2xTId74

A desperate escape: http://tmsnrt.rs/2xIvxQF

(Additional reporting by Mohammad Ponir Hossain and Nurul Islam in COX’S BAZAR; Writing by Simon Cameron-Moore; Editing by Toby Chopra)

Rohingya row to Bangladesh as Myanmar’s Suu Kyi runs summit gauntlet

Rohingya row to Bangladesh as Myanmar's Suu Kyi runs summit gauntlet

By Tommy Wilkes and Simon Cameron-Moore

COX’S BAZAR/YANGON (Reuters) – Blessed by calmer seas, several hundred more Rohingya Muslims on Thursday joined a multitude of refugees in Bangladesh, as calls grew for upcoming regional summits to exert more pressure on Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi to stem the crisis.

A Myanmar military operation has driven out more than 600,000 Rohingya since late August and the latest refugees to find sanctuary in predominantly Muslim Bangladesh say many thousands more are still trying to leave.

Ariful Islam, of Bangladesh’s Border Guard, said about 200 people arrived on Thursday morning on the stretch of coast he commands at Teknaf, at the southern tip of Cox’s Bazar district.

More than 200 Rohingya have drowned in the strong currents and high surf trying to reach Bangladesh from Buddhist-majority Myanmar over the past two months.

But the sea was fairly flat on Thursday morning as Abdus Sabir came ashore at Shamlapur along with a large group of Rohingya after a six-hour boat journey to complete an escape begun weeks ago.

“We fled because the military is still burning our houses,” Abdus, who had abandoned his home in the Rathedaung region of Myanmar’s Rakhine State, told Reuters.

Nearby, Husain Shorif, from the Buthidaung region, said he had rowed for four hours to help bring across 56 people on a raft cobbled together from bamboo and plastic jerrycans.

“Some boatmen were asking for huge money we didn’t have. So we made our own boat and came,” Shorif said, adding that thousands more Rohingya were still stranded at Pa Nyaung Pin Gyi at the mouth of the Naf river.

Reuters was unable to verify that claim as Myanmar’s military has restricted access to northern parts of Rakhine, where it launched a clearance operation it says was aimed at Rohingya militants behind attacks on 30 security posts on Aug. 25. UN officials described the operation as “ethnic cleansing”, an accusation Myanmar has denied.

The storm of opprobrium over the humanitarian crisis will expose Myanmar to more diplomatic pressure, at least from leaders of Muslim-majority countries and the United States, during three summits hosted by Vietnam and the Philippines.

Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar’s less than two-year-old civilian administration, left on Thursday to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vietnam’s central seaside resort of Danang.

Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for standing up to the generals who had ruled the country for nearly half a century, Suu Kyi now has to share power with them, under a constitution drawn up in 2008 when junta was still in control, and has little control over what they do.

After Friday’s APEC gathering, Suu Kyi will meet leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) grouping in Manila on Sunday, followed by an East Asia Summit in Angeles, just north of the Philippine capital.

Mass exodus: http://tmsnrt.rs/2xTAOon

A desperate escape: http://tmsnrt.rs/2A1ATUP


Setting up a regional trade block, and concerns over North Korea’s ambitions to become a nuclear-armed state are priorities, but New York-based Human Rights Watch beseeched the Asian leaders to ensure stronger action by Myanmar to end the crisis.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will meet Suu Kyi on Nov. 15 for talks on the Rohingya crisis, and they are expected to hold a joint news conference.

“World leaders shouldn’t return home from these summits without agreeing to targeted sanctions to pressure Burma to end its abuses and allow in independent observers and aid groups,” Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement that referred to Myanmar by its old name.

Desperate for help to cope with the massive influx of people, Bangladesh is lobbying furiously for pressure to be put on Myanmar.

“We want international communities to continue building pressure on Myanmar. Otherwise, they won’t resolve the crisis,” a foreign ministry official in Dhaka told Reuters, adding that ministers from Germany, China, Japan and Sweden were expected to visit both countries later this month.

HRW’s Adams said leaders meeting Asia should discuss how to investigate alleged rights abuses and atrocities in Rakhine, and refer them to the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

The rights group also urged the Security Council to impose an arms embargo, economic sanctions and travel bans targeting Myanmar military officials.

Some U.S. senators are pressing for the United States to impose its own sanctions, also targeting the military.

The Security Council this week opted for a strongly worded statement scolding Myanmar, as diplomats said China and Russia would have vetoed any resolution.

China has publicly supported the Myanmar government’s efforts to “maintain stability” in Rakhine. The stance taken by China and other Southeast Asian governments fighting insurgencies by Muslim militants should spare Myanmar from any harsh spotlight in the summits’ final communiques.

“On the Rohingya, the leaders will agree that there is no quick fix to the long-standing inter-communal problem with deep historical roots that needs to be carefully managed,” an ASEAN diplomat told Reuters, adding that the group aimed to deliver $500,000 of relief supplies to Myanmar.

A trail of destruction: http://tmsnrt.rs/2fDBxTc

(Additional reporting by Navesh Chitrakar and Mohammad Ponir Hossain in COX’S BAZAR, Ruma Paul in DHAKA and Thu Thu Aung in YANGON; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

U.N. picks Norwegian for Myanmar role as tensions simmer over Rohingya crisis

U.N. picks Norwegian for Myanmar role as tensions simmer over Rohingya crisis

YANGON (Reuters) – The United Nations named a new interim U.N. resident coordinator for Myanmar on Tuesday, appointing Knut Ostby of Norway to take over the humanitarian role at a time of growing strains with the Myanmar government over the handling of the Rohingya crisis.

The appointment of a temporary placeholder was expected after Myanmar blocked an upgrade of the U.N. country chief position.

Myanmar’s de facto leader, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, has told diplomats in private meetings that she is frustrated with the United Nations, particularly its human rights arm.

Ostby, who has served with the United Nations in a number of hotspots, including Afghanistan and East Timor, will replace Renata Lok-Dessallien, who has completed her term.

Some 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh after ethnic violence erupted in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state in late August.

Rights monitors and Rohingya refugees say the army and Rakhine Buddhist vigilantes have forced them to flee their homes.

U.N. investigators interviewing Rohingyas living in refugee camps near Cox’s Bazar said on Friday they had gathered testimony pointing to a “consistent, methodical pattern” of killings, torture, rape and arson.

The fact-finding team, led by former Indonesian attorney general Marzuki Darusman, said the death toll from the Myanmar army’s crackdown following Rohingya insurgent attacks on Aug. 25 was unknown, but “may turn out to be extremely high”.

The U.N. team, which was established by the U.N. Human Rights Council in March, renewed its appeal for access to Rakhine state and for talks with the Myanmar government and military to “establish the facts”.

In the early stages of the crisis, the United Nations described the military campaign as “ethnic cleansing”, an accusation rejected by Myanmar, which says its military was engaged in counter-insurgency operations against Rohingya militants behind a series of attacks on security posts.

Suu Kyi has said the refugees can return, but thousands continue to arrive in Bangladesh.

Myanmar, an overwhelmingly Buddhist country with small Christian and Muslim minorities, is struggling to emerge from decades of military rule, and Suu Kyi’s democratically elected government is engaged in a peace dialogue with members of various armed ethnic groups.

(Reporting by Antoni Slodowski; Writing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

Myanmar gives green light to resume food aid to Rakhine, says U.N.

Myanmar gives green light to resume food aid to Rakhine, says U.N.

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – Myanmar authorities have agreed to allow the United Nations to resume distribution of food in northern Rakhine state which was suspended for two months, the World Food Programme (WFP) said on Friday.

The agreement, whose details are still being worked out, came as UNICEF reported that Rohingya refugee children fleeing into Bangladesh were arriving “close to death” from malnutrition.

The WFP was previously distributing food rations to 110,000 people in northern Rakhine state – to both Buddhist and the minority Muslim Rohingya communities.

Rohingya insurgent attacks on police stations triggered an army crackdown, that the United Nations has called “ethnic cleansing”, and U.N. humanitarian agencies have not been able to access northern Rakhine to deliver aid since then. WFP deliveries have continued to 140,000 people in central Rakhine.

“WFP has been given the green light to resume food assistance operations in northern part of Rakhine. We are working with the government to coordinate the details,” WFP spokeswoman Bettina Luescher told journalists in Geneva.

She had no timeline or details on the proposed distribution of rations to northern Rakhine, and said it was still being discussed with the authorities in Myanmar.

“We just have to see what the situation on the ground is. It’s very hard to say these things if you can’t get in,” Luescher said.

Some 604,000 Rohingya refugees have fled to Bangladesh in the past two months, bringing the total to 817,000, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said.

Malnutrition rates in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships in Rakhine, where the vast majority of the Rohingya refugees originate, were already above emergency threshold rates before the crisis, the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said.

“Since August 25, we have had to stop treating 4,000 children with severe acute malnutrition in northern Rakhine because we have had no access,” UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado told the briefing.

UNICEF has screened nearly 60,000 Rohingya refugee children arriving in Bangladesh, nearly 2,000 of whom have been identified as having severe acute malnutrition, with another 7,000 moderately acutely malnourished, she said.

The agency screened 340 children among recent arrivals, a “rough and rapid exercise” that found 10 percent to be severely acutely malnourished, she said.

“This is an extremely small number of children so these numbers are not representative,” Mercado said.

“But what they do tell us is that some of the children are close to death by the time they make it across the border.”

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay,; editing by Tom Miles and Richard Balmforth)

Desperate for news, Rohingya refugees tune in to ‘WhatsApp radio’

Rohingya refugees cross a bamboo bridge as they arrive at a port after crossing from Myanmar, in Teknaf, Bangladesh, October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

By Simon Lewis, Zeba Siddiqui and Tommy Wilkes

COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh (Reuters) – Sat in his hillside grocery shop in a Bangladesh refugee camp, Rohingya Muslim Momtaz-ul-Hoque takes a break to listen to an audio recording on his mobile phone, while children and passers-by gather round to hear the latest news from Myanmar.

“I listen because I get some information on my motherland,” said Hoque, 30, as he plays a message on WhatsApp explaining the Myanmar government’s proposals for repatriating refugees.

Hoque has been in Bangladesh since an earlier bout of violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in 1992, but the number of refugees in the camps has swelled dramatically to more than 800,000 in recent weeks, after a massive Myanmar military operation sent around 600,000 people fleeing across the border.

Tens of thousands of exhausted refugees have arrived with little more than a sack of rice, a few pots and pans and a mobile phone powered by a cheap solar battery, and many are desperate for news of what is going on back home.

With few news sources in their own language and low levels of literacy, audio and video messages distributed on apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook and YouTube have become a community radio of sorts for the Muslim minority.

Dozens of WhatsApp groups have sprung up to fill the information gap. Their offerings range from grainy footage of violence, to listings of the names and numbers of people missing in the chaos of the exodus, or even an explainer from educated Rohingya on how to adjust to life in the camps.


At a shop selling cold drinks in the Leda refugee camp, two men played “WhatsApp news” through a loudspeaker.

Out of breath, a man narrated a scene purportedly from a village in Myanmar’s Buthidaung region, according to Mohammed Zubair, a refugee who translated the broadcasts for Reuters.

“They are surrounding the village. We are under attack from the military and the mogs…some people are seriously injured,” Zubair translates the speaker as saying, using a derogatory term common in Bangladesh to refer to ethnic Rakhine Buddhists.

“I trust it 100 percent,” Zubair said of the information.

Reuters was not able to verify the account.

The WhatsApp groups tend to have hundreds of members, meaning that the spread of information depends on people passing on the news.

Many of the listeners do not know who is sending the message or the trustworthiness of the broadcaster. Some said outdated or inaccurate reports were common.

“In some cases, we got audio messages of villages burning in Myanmar, and when we contact people in those villages, there’s nothing,” said one refugee inside a tea shop in Bangladesh’sKutupalong camp.

Other refugees said videos of violence claimed to have been filmed in villages in Myanmar turned out to be footage from other countries.


Many also worry that the unregulated nature of WhatsApp groups increases opportunities for voices keen to push an agenda rather than share facts.

Rohingya rebel group the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) – whose Aug. 25 attacks on security forces triggered the latest crisis – and its followers have been among the most active adopters of WhatsApp to spread their message.

Audio messages urging support, updates on the latest military movements and official press releases dominate some groups.

Several refugees in Bangladesh said they had no idea if the messages, often posted by people with phone numbers registered in the Middle East or other parts of Asia, were actually from ARSA members.

Refugees also worry that Bangladeshi security forces want to monitor the broadcasts, and are looking in the camps for ARSA supporters.

At the tea shop in Kutupalong camp, refugees have stopped listening to the broadcasts on loudspeakers during daylight hours, preferring to gather clandestinely at night instead.

Still, many Rohingyas say social media platforms play a crucial role in keeping spirits up among the community.

“The Rohingya people are not organized,” said Hoque, the grocer. “They cannot take out their frustration any other way, so this is a way of protesting.”

(Reporting by Simon Lewis, Zeba Siddiqui and Tommy Wilkes; Writing by Tommy Wilkes; Editing by Alex Richardson)

U.S. weighs calling Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis ‘ethnic cleansing’

U.S. weighs calling Myanmar's Rohingya crisis 'ethnic cleansing'

By Patricia Zengerle and Matt Spetalnick

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The State Department is considering formally declaring the crackdown on Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims to be ethnic cleansing, U.S. officials said on Tuesday, as lawmakers called for sanctions against the Southeast Asian country’s military.

Pressure has mounted for a tougher U.S. response to the Rohingya crisis ahead of President Donald Trump’s maiden visit to Asia next month when he will attend a summit of Southeast Asian countries, including Myanmar, in Manila.

U.S. officials are preparing a recommendation for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that would define the military-led campaign against the Rohingya as ethnic cleansing, which could spur new sanctions, the U.S. government sources said.

The proposal – part of an overall review of Myanmar policy – could be sent to Tillerson as early as this week, and he would then decide whether to adopt it, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

More than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Rakhine state in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, mostly to neighboring Bangladesh, since security forces responded to Rohingya militants’ attacks on Aug. 25 by launching a crackdown. The United Nations has already denounced it as a classic example of ethnic cleansing.

Three U.S. officials testifying at a Senate hearing on Tuesday declined to say whether the treatment of the Rohingya was ethnic cleansing, but listed new measures including targeted sanctions that Washington is considering.

Those steps, however, stopped short of the most drastic tools at Washington’s disposal such as reimposing broader economic sanctions suspended under the Obama administration.

“I’m not in a position … to characterize it today, but to me this very closely resembles some of the worst kind of atrocities that I’ve seen during a long career,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Mark Storella said when pressed to say whether he viewed the situation as ethnic cleansing.

Senator Ben Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, said he considered the treatment of the Rohingya “genocide” and is working on bipartisan legislation that could spell out whether additional sanctions are needed.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, insists that action was needed to combat “terrorists.”

The recommendation to Tillerson – first reported by the Associated Press – is not expected to include a determination on whether “crimes against humanity” have been committed, as this would require further legal deliberations, one U.S. official said.

The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Some U.S. lawmakers criticized Aung San Suu Kyi, head of Myanmar’s civilian-led government and a Nobel peace laureate once hugely popular in Washington, for failing to do more.

Senator Bob Corker, Republican chairman of the committee, chided Suu Kyi for what he called “dismissiveness” toward the plight of the Rohingya and said it might be time for a “policy adjustment” toward Myanmar.

At the hearing, Patrick Murphy, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian And Pacific Affairs, said additional sanctions were being considered, but cautioned that doing so could lessen Washington’s ability to influence Myanmar.

(Additional reporting by John Walcott and Jason Szep; editing by Susan Thomas)

U.S. says it is considering sanctions over Myanmar’s treatment of Rohingya

U.S. says it is considering sanctions over Myanmar's treatment of Rohingya

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is taking steps and considering a range of further actions over Myanmar’s treatment of its Rohingya Muslim minority, including targeted sanctions under its Global Magnitsky law, the State Department said on Monday.

“We express our gravest concern with recent events in Myanmar’s Rakhine state and the violent, traumatic abuses Rohingya and other communities have endured,” it said in a statement.

It added: “It is imperative that any individuals or entities responsible for atrocities, including non-state actors and vigilantes, be held accountable.”

Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar in large numbers since late August when Rohingya insurgent attacks sparked a ferocious military response, with the fleeing people accusing security forces of arson, killings and rape.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Wednesday the United States held Myanmar’s military leadership responsible for its crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim minority.

Tillerson stopped short of saying whether the United States would take any action against Myanmar’s military leaders over an offensive that has driven more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims out of the country, mostly to neighboring Bangladesh.

The State Department made the announcement ahead of U.S. President Donald Trump’s maiden visit to the region early next month when he will attend a summit of ASEAN countries, including Myanmar, in Manila.

It marked the strongest U.S. response so far to the months-long Rohingya crisis but came short of applying the most drastic tools at Washington’s disposal such as reimposing broader economic sanctions suspended under the Obama administration.

Critics have accused the Trump administration of acting too slowly and timidly in response to the Rohingya crisis.

The State Department said on Monday: “We are exploring accountability mechanisms available under U.S. law, including Global Magnitsky targeted sanctions.”

Measures already taken include ending travel waivers for current and former members of the military in Myanmar, also known as Burma, and barring units and officers in northern Rakhine state from U.S. assistance, it said.

“We have rescinded invitations for senior Burmese security forces to attend U.S.-sponsored events; we are working with international partners to urge that Burma enables unhindered access to relevant areas for the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission, international humanitarian organizations, and media,” the statement said.

In addition, Washington is “consulting with allies and partners on accountability options at the UN, the UN Human Rights Council, and other appropriate venues,” it said.


Interviews with more than a dozen diplomats and government officials based in Washington, Myanmar’s capital, Yangon, and Europe have revealed that punitive measures aimed specifically at top generals were among a range of options being discussed in response to the Rohingya crisis.

Such measures could include the possibility of imposing asset freezes and prohibiting American citizens from doing business with them.

Washington has worked hard to establish close ties with Myanmar’s civilian-led government led by Nobel laureate and former dissident Aung San Suu Kyi in the face of competition from strategic rival China.

Forty-three U.S. lawmakers urged the Trump administration to reimpose U.S. travel bans on Myanmar’s military leaders and prepare targeted sanctions against those responsible for the crackdown.

The Magnitsky Act, originally passed in 2012, imposed visa bans and asset freezes on Russian officials linked to the 2009 death in prison of Sergei Magnitsky, a 37-year-old Russian whistleblower. It has since been expanded to become the Global Magnitsky Act, which could be used against the generals in Myanmar.

(Reporting by Eric Walsh and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Peter Cooney)

Rohingya refugee children in Bangladesh in dire state: UNICEF

Rohingya refugee children in Bangladesh in dire state: UNICEF

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – Nearly 340,000 Rohingya children are living in squalid conditions in Bangladesh camps where they lack enough food, clean water and health care, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Friday.

Up to 12,000 more children join them every week, fleeing violence or hunger in Myanmar, often still traumatized by atrocities they witnessed, it said in a report “Outcast and Desperate”.

In all, almost 600,000 Rohingya refugees have left northern Rakhine state since Aug. 25 when the U.N. says the Myanmar army began a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” following insurgent attacks.

“This isn’t going to be a short-term, it isn’t going to end anytime soon,” Simon Ingram, the report’s author and a UNICEF official, told a news briefing.

“So it is absolutely critical that the borders remain open and that protection for children is given and equally that children born in Bangladesh have their birth registered.”

Most Rohingya are stateless in Myanmar and many fled without papers, he said, adding of the newborns in Bangladesh: “Without an identity they have no chance of ever assimilating into any society effectively.”

Safe drinking water and toilets are in “desperately short supply” in the chaotic, teeming camps and settlements, Ingram said after spending two weeks in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

“In a sense it’s no surprise that they must truly see this place as a hell on earth,” he said.

One in five Rohingya children under the age of five is estimated to be acutely malnourished, requiring medical attention, he said.

“There is a very, very severe risk of outbreaks of water-borne diseases, diarrhea and quite conceivably cholera in the longer-term,” he added.

UNICEF is providing clean water and toilets, and has helped vaccinate children against measles and cholera, which can be deadly, he said.

The agency is seeking $76 million under a $434 million U.N. appeal for Rohingya refugees for six months, but is only 7 percent funded, he said, speaking ahead of a pledging conference in Geneva on Monday.

U.N. agencies are still demanding access to northern Rakhine, where an unknown number of Rohingya remain despite U.N. reports that many villages and food stocks have been burned.

“We repeat the call for the need for protection of all children in Rakhine state, this is an absolute fundamental requirement. The atrocities against children and civilians must end,” Ingram said.

“We just must keep putting it on the record, we cannot keep silent.”

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

U.N. says still determining if Myanmar crisis is genocide

U.N. says still determining if Myanmar crisis is genocide

By Tom Miles

GENEVA (Reuters) – The United Nations has yet to determine whether violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar meets the legal definition of genocide, Jyoti Sanghera, Asia Pacific chief at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Wednesday.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has called the situation “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”, but he has not used the word genocide.

“We are yet looking at the legal boundaries of that,” Sanghera said. “It could meet the boundaries, but we haven’t yet made that legal determination at OHCHR.”

A U.N. team took witness statements from Rohingya refugees last month, and another human rights mission is currently on the ground, gathering evidence from some of the 582,000 Rohingya who have fled into Bangladesh in the last two months.

“The testimony gathered by the team referred to unspeakable horrors,” Sanghera told an audience at Geneva’s Graduate Institute. “Even as I speak this evening the world is witnessing a horrific spectacle of massive forced displacement and suffering.”

A few hundred thousand Rohingya are thought to remain in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state, she said.

The refugees described massive detention and systematic rape by Myanmar security forces, deliberate destruction of Rohingya villages so that people could not return, and deliberate targeting of cultural and religious leaders that aimed to “diminish Rohingya history, culture and knowledge”, she said.

Imams had their beards shaved or burnt off, and women and girls were raped inside mosques. Some refugees said their non-Rohingya neighbors had been given weapons and uniforms and worked in concert with the security forces.

“Unsettled post-colonial questions and tensions fueled by colonial powers of the past have been exploited by the military junta in Myanmar to keep ethnic rivalries simmering,” Sanghera said.

“Systematic and acute discrimination of the Rohingya Muslims continues to be kept alive by the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, to a point referred to recently by the High Commissioner for Human Rights as ‘ethnic cleansing’ of an entire people.”

Designating the Rohingya as victims of genocide under a 1948 U.N. convention would increase pressure on the international community to take action to protect them, and could expose Myanmar officials to a greater threat of international justice.

The U.N. convention, passed in the wake of the Nazi holocaust, requires countries to act to prevent and punish genocide, which it defines as any of a number of acts committed with the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part” a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.

It is one of four categories of crimes subject to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

(Reporting by Tom Miles; editing by Ralph Boulton and Peter Graff)

U.S. says holds Myanmar military leaders accountable in Rohingya crisis

A Rohingya refugee woman who crossed the border from Myanmar a day before, carries her daughter and searches for help as they wait to receive permission from the Bangladeshi army to continue their way to the refugee camps, in Palang Khali, Bangladesh October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

By David Brunnstrom and Jonathan Landay

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Wednesday the United States held Myanmar’s military leadership responsible for its harsh crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim minority.

Tillerson, however, stopped short of saying whether the United States would take any action against Myanmar’s military leaders over an offensive that has driven more than 500,000 Rohingya Muslims out of the country.

Washington has worked hard to establish close ties with Myanmar’s civilian-led government led by Nobel laureate and former dissident Aung San Suu Kyi in the face of competition from strategic rival China.

“The world can’t just stand idly by and be witness to the atrocities that are being reported in the area,” Tillerson told Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.

“We really hold the military leadership accountable for what’s happening,” said Tillerson, who said the United States was “extraordinarily concerned” by the situation.

Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar in large numbers since late August when Rohingya insurgent attacks sparked a ferocious military response, with the fleeing people accusing security forces of arson, killings and rape.

Tillerson said Washington understood Myanmar had a militancy problem, but the military had to be disciplined and restrained in the way it dealt with this and to allow access to the region “so that we can get a full accounting of the circumstances.”

“Someone, if these reports are true, is going to be held to account for that,” Tillerson said. “And it’s up to the military leadership of Burma to decide, ‘What direction do they want to play in the future of Burma?'”

Tillerson said Washington saw Myanmar, which is also known as Burma, as “an important emerging democracy,” but the Rohingya crisis was a test for the power-sharing government.

He said the United States would remain engaged, including ultimately at the United Nations “with the direction this takes.”

The European Union and the United States have been considering targeted sanctions against Myanmar’s military leadership.

Punitive measures aimed specifically at top generals are among a range of options that have been discussed, but they are wary of action that could hurt the wider economy or destabilize already tense ties between Suu Kyi and the army.

Tillerson also said he would visit New Delhi next week as the Trump administration sought to dramatically deepen cooperation with India in response to China’s challenges to “international law and norms” in Asia.

Tillerson said the administration had began a “quiet conversation” with some emerging East Asian democracies about creating alternatives to Chinese infrastructure financing.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Jonathan Landay; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Alistair Bell)