COX’s BAZAR, Bangladesh, Sept 26, (AFP):With no money even to bury his eight-year-old daughter, Ali Hossain broke down as he recounted her final moments, the latest Rohingya refugee to die in Bangladesh as fears mount over outbreaks of disease.
The little girl was among some 436,000 Rohingya Muslims who fl ed a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine, making the dangerous journey across the border to neighbouring Bangladesh. But her bid for safety ended when she fell victim to an intestinal infection, likely triggered by poor sanitation as well as food and water shortages in the overcrowded makeshift camps that are home to the Rohingya. She died on Monday, hours after she was admitted to a state-run hospital in the border town of Cox’s Bazar.
More than 200 Rohingya are being treated in Sadar Hospital, which has been inundated with patients, with a shortage of beds forcing doctors to house the sick on sheets spread out on the fl oor. Nurses said at least 20 refugees, mostly children, have died in that hospital alone since the influx began, after attacks by Rohingya militants on Myanmar police posts on August 25 sparked a sweeping crackdown. But official figures from the Bangladesh authorities say that just 10 Rohingya have died throughout the camps around Cox’s Bazar.
Police have set up checkpoints around the camps – to stop refugees going to other parts of the country – and are only allowing ambulances to ferry patients in and out of the area. “We don’t stop any sick and injured refugees from going to the hospitals,” a policeman at one checkpoint told AFP. “And there have been a lot of Rohingya who have gone to hospitals in the past few days,” he said. Relief agencies have warned that diarrhoea, cholera and pneumonia could spread quickly among the refugees who are living in squalid conditions, putting further pressure on overstretched hospitals. The UN Security Council will meet Thursday to discuss the violence in Myanmar and hear a briefing from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on the crisis, diplomats said.
The United Nations has described the military operation as “ethnic cleansing” and French President Emmanuel Macron last week went further, calling it “genocide.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has denounced the plight of the Rohingya, accused Myanmar of waging a “Buddhist terror” against the Muslim minority and also denounced the “genocide.”
The Security Council earlier this month called for “immediate steps” to end the violence, following a closed-door meeting. The 1.1-million strong Rohingya have suffered years of discrimination in Myanmar, where they are denied citizenship even though many have longstanding roots in the country. In a related news, Bangladesh has eased restrictions on aid groups working in refugee camps and sought $250 million from the World Bank to fund emergency relief, officials said Tuesday, after an influx of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar has overwhelmed its border area.
The government NGO Affairs Bureau cleared 30 local and international groups to meet “emergency needs” in camps and said more would follow, Shahdat Hossain, a bureau director, told AFP. Bangladesh has strictly limited access to Rohingya camps in recent years. It has never given reasons, but the country is sensitive about security and there are fears a Muslim influx could tempt extremist groups.