The United Nations doesn’t have the resources to look after 270,000 Rohingyas who have fled persecution in Myanmar and taken refuge in Bangladesh in the past few weeks.
“No we don’t, not at this point. The numbers are immense and they just keep growing,” Vivian Tan, a spokesperson for the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR), has told Al Jazeera.
“Over the last few days, different UN agencies and NGOs went to affected areas to do a rapid means assessment and we reached out to areas we were not previously aware were hosting refugees,” he said about the mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims and the world body’s response to the crisis.
“It was here that we found these pockets of new arrivals – in villages and in spontaneous settlements sprouting on the side of the road. So no, we don’t have enough resources, and based on this rapid needs assessment we will get a clearer picture of what we need and appeal for funds,” Tan said.
The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has already warned of the risk of ethnic cleansing, appealing to the country’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the country’s security forces to end the violence.
Describing the cases of some of the refugees UN officials have come across, Tan said they were “consistently told by most of the arriving refugees: ‘my home was burned, or my village was burnt.’”
“We’re often told that a helicopter came and dropped something onto their village, and a number of them reported shootings, but it still isn’t clear if they were targeted shootings or shootings to scare people away. Some said they lost family members,” he said.
“In terms of how they fled, most reported walking for several days. The minimum I’ve heard is three days and the maximum is nine.They said they hid in jungles, in mountains, and they helped each other because of the difficult conditions. And there were also quite a few stories about babies being born along the way.”
Tan said he had come across a family who had a baby in the jungle as they were hiding.
“And yesterday [Thursday], at the Nayapara camp in Teknaf, a father approached a clinic we were at looking very worried, gesturing “come-come”. We came out and he took us to this little basket covered by a blanket. I thought this could be chickens or vegetables, but he opened it up and showed us two tiny, babies. His wife had just given birth to twins while they were on the run.”
“There are a lot of really heartbreaking stories,” he said.
The situation was worse for children in the refugee camps.
“We’re seeing a worryingly high number of unaccompanied children and separated children.Many have either lost their parents in the violence or along the way as they fled. Some are with aunts or neighbours. Others, however, are completely alone,” Tan said.