Nearly 125,000 People are fleeing Myanmar for Bangladesh

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres today called for the Muslims of Rakhine state to be given either nationality or legal status, and voiced concern about violence that has since late August forced nearly 125,000 people to flee and risk destabilizing the region.

“I have condemned the recent attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. But now we are receiving constant reports of violence by Myanmar’s security forces, including indiscriminate attacks,” the Secretary-General told journalists in New York, expressing concern about the security, humanitarian and human rights situation in Rakhine. “This will only further increase radicalization.”

Mr. Guterres said that he has officially written to the Security Council to express his concern and to propose various steps to end the violence, adding that the grievances of Rohingya – the Muslims in the Rakhine state – “have festered for far too long and are becoming an undeniable factor in regional destabilization.”

He called on the international community to prevent further escalation and to seek a holistic solution, and urged the authorities in Myanmar to provide security and aid to those in need and safe access to life-saving aid.

“At the same time, it is no longer possible to delay an effective action plan to address the root causes of the crisis,” Mr. Guterres said.

“It will be crucial to give the Muslims of Rakhine state either nationality or, at least for now, a legal status that will allow them to have a normal life, including freedom of movement and access to labor markets, education and health services.”

Meanwhile, UN agencies in the region today appealed for $18 million to aid for three months the civilians who are rushing into Bangladesh.

“Clear signs that more will cross into Bangladesh from Myanmar before situation stabilizes,” said the Director of Operations and Emergencies at the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Mohammed Abdiker, on Twitter. “Without more international support, suffering will continue.”

Thousands of people are arriving daily in south-eastern Bangladesh, living in makeshift sites and seeking any space for shelter.

“We are running out of space in the existing settlements and new arrivals are pitching camp wherever they can erect some plastic sheeting to protect themselves from the elements,” said Sarat Dash, IOM Bangladesh Chief of Mission.

“The new arrivals are putting immense strain on the existing support structures. These need to be immediately scaled up to ensure lives are not put at risk,” he cautioned.

With reports of ongoing violence, UN agencies today expressed grave concern about the situation, including reports that some civilians are dying enroute to safety.

“Those who have made it to Bangladesh are in poor condition. Most have walked for days from their villages – hiding in jungles, crossing mountains and rivers with what they could salvage from their homes. They are hungry, weak and sick,” a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Duniya Aslam Khan, told journalists in Geneva.

Two of the shelter sites – Kutupalong and Nayapara camps – are at “breaking point,” Ms. Khan said. New arrivals are hosted by refugee families and in refugee schools, community centres, madrassas and covered structures.

“We are running out of available space,” she stressed.

Among the people who UN agencies and partners are helping in Bangladesh is Rohingya Dilara, who reached Bangladesh barefoot, clutching her 18-month son.

“My husband was shot in the village. I escaped with my son and in-laws,” she told UNHCR. “We walked for three days, hiding when we had to. The mountain was wet and slippery and I kept falling.”

Dilara followed other villagers into the Kutupalong camp, which was established in the 1990s along with neighboring Nayapara camp, and already had a population of some 30,000 people.

UNHCR estimates that 20,000 civilians arrived since 25 August, when the fighting in Myanmar flared up.

“I don’t know where I am…I just knew to run to save my life,” Dilara said.