As Rohingya exodus slows, refugee numbers may top 500,000

Bangladesh is now scrambling for humanitarian assistance including help for up to 18,000 pregnant women
As Rohingya exodus slows, refugee numbers may top 500,000

An elderly Rohingya refugee from Myanmar holds two children soon after entering Bangladesh at Shah Porir Dwip Island, Cox's Bazar on Sept. 13.

The number of Rohingya Muslims fleeing to Bangladesh from persecution in Myanmar has slowed in recent days but the numbers may still be as high as half a million, even as reports suggest Muslim villages in northern Rakhine were burning as late as Sept. 21.

Bangladeshi officials and Rohingya community leaders said the easing of new refugee numbers may mean that most people who wanted to flee have already crossed the border.

Officially, about 430,000 Rohingya have entered Bangladesh since a crackdown by Myanmar's military in northern Rakhine State following the Aug. 25 attacks by Rohingya insurgents on 30 security check posts.

"Unofficially, we estimate the number of arrivals is 500,000, as many are still scattered outside the 14 official shelters," Abul Kalam, commissioner of Refugee Relief and Repatriation Committee under the Disaster Management and Relief ministry, told ucanews.com.

"We are locating and putting them in shelters, and security check posts have been increased to monitor their movements," he said.

This is close to half the 1.1 million estimated Rohingya population in Myanmar prior to the crisis. 

"In the beginning we were under huge refugee pressure but the situation is now under control. We are doing our best to meet their dire needs," Kalam said.

 

The official said there were now no signs of fire among dwellings seen from the Bangladesh side of Rohingya villages and that he was not aware if refugees have returned home. 

"Some refugees who hail from border areas might try to return home to get supplies but we haven't heard of it. Even four days ago, thousands were coming each day but now it is only a few hundreds, which appears to mean those who wanted to flee are already here," Kalam said.

Zabed Iqbal Chowdhury, a local journalist from Teknaf, Cox's Bazar, confirmed that the flow has slowed and that over the past two days no fire or smoke was seen from villages in Myanmar.

"A few people are coming through major entry points. Those who are coming now are from faraway places and also those who hid in hills and forests to avoid being tortured and killed by the military or ethnic Rakhine Buddhist groups," Chowdhury told ucanews.com.

Muhammad Noor, a Rohingya leader from Kutupalong refugee camp, said 15 families, most of them from Buthidaung Township, arrived on Sept. 21. 

"People say the situation in northern Rakhine is still tense and soldiers patrol areas day and night. Most of their houses have been burned down. The flow is down but continues," Noor told ucanews.com.

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Amanur Rahman, a reporter with the Bengali daily Bangla Tribune, who made a trip to the Tombru area of Rakhine on Sept. 21, said he had seen houses set ablaze across the border.

"It was around 5:00 pm and we tried drive fast to get back to Bangladesh. Suddenly, we saw fire engulfing a house in northern Tombru and we went close to see what happened. The owner of the house was crying. We recorded the fire on camera and rushed back for safety," he reported.

The Bangladeshi government has recorded the identities of some 9,000 Rohingya through a biometric registration process as of Sept. 21, the last of the nine days for registration and documentation of refugees coming to Bangladesh.

Since that day soldiers were deployed to assist the civil administration in the distribution of relief aid to refugees.

About 2,500 wounded and sick refugees have received treatment in various government and non-government health facilities in Bangladesh since Aug. 25, according to the Bangladeshi health ministry.

"There are 16,000 to 18,000 pregnant women among the refugees, who need emergency medical support," said Enayet Hossain, director general of the health department.

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