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As Rohingya Fill Camps, Bangladesh to Build One More

Shamsun Nahar (left), 60, a Rohingya widow who fled from Kha Maung Seik village of Myanmar to Bangladesh alone, whose 30-year-old son is missing, tells her story at Kutupalang Makeshift Camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, Sept. 4, 2017.

Aid agencies were struggling to cope with a nonstop flood of Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh, where some 146,000 have arrived hungry and terrified after fleeing renewed violence in Myanmar, a crisis the country’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, dismissed as a misinformation campaign.

With the influx pushing existing Rohingya refugee camps to the brink, Bangladesh pledged to build at least one more. The International Organization for Migration has pleaded for $18 million in foreign aid to help feed and shelter tens of thousands now packed into makeshift settlements or stranded in a no-man’s land between the two countries’ borders.

U.N. agencies said they were distributing food to new arrivals, about 80 percent of whom were women and children, joining about 100,000 who have been sheltering in Bangladesh after fleeing earlier convulsions of violence in majority-Buddhist Myanmar.

A local man carries an old Rohingya refugee woman as she is unable to walk after crossing the border, in Teknaf, Bangladesh, Sept. 1, 2017.
A local man carries an old Rohingya refugee woman as she is unable to walk after crossing the border, in Teknaf, Bangladesh, Sept. 1, 2017.

‘Streams of people’

“We’ve not had something on this scale here in many years,” said Pavlo Kolovos, the Bangladesh mission leader for Doctors Without Borders, known by its French acronym MSF, in a statement. “Our teams are seeing streams of people arriving destitute and extremely traumatized,” including many in need of urgent medical care for violence-related injuries, severe infections or childbirth complications.

With so many Rohingya fleeing, it’s unclear how many remain in Myanmar amid reports of soldiers burning villages and killing civilians. Before the recent violence, aid experts had estimated about 1 million Rohingya were living in northern Rakhine state, but aid agencies have been unable to access the area since.

“We are unable to reach the 28,000 children to whom we were previously providing psychosocial care or the more than 4,000 children who were treated for malnutrition in Buthidaung and Maungdaw” in Rakhine, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said. “Our clean water and sanitation work has been suspended, as have school repairs that were under way.”

Turkey aid officials to enter

Turkey said that Myanmar agreed to allow its aid officials to enter Rakhine state with a ton of food and goods for Rohingya, and that its foreign minister would visit a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar Thursday.

The violence has driven some Rohingya to flee into forests near their villages or to beaches on the Bay of Bengal in hopes of rescue.

Bangladesh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs delivered a protest note to Myanmar’s envoy Wednesday expressing concern about reports that Myanmar’s security forces had planted land mines along the border, and demanding immediate measures to de-escalate the violence.

Seeking to counter the storm of international criticism, Suu Kyi’s top security adviser on Wednesday asserted that security forces were acting with restraint in pursuing “terrorists.”

National Security Advisor Thaung Tun told a news conference Myanmar’s capital, Naypyitaw, that he was “deeply disappointed and saddened by the disinformation campaign being waged around the world with regard to the situation in Rakhine.”

Meanwhile, Suu Kyi complained to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a phone call Tuesday that Turkey’s deputy prime minister was a victim of fake news when he posted photos purportedly showing dead Rohingya that were not related to the crisis. The photos on Mehmet Simsek’s Twitter account have been taken down.