Conflict Threatening Over 320,000 Rohingya Refugee Children

Residents of the Thet Kae Pyin camp for displaced people in Sittwe, Rakhine State, Myanmar. (file) Photo: OCHA/P.Peron
Residents of the Thet Kae Pyin camp for displaced people in Sittwe, Rakhine State, Myanmar. (file) Photo: OCHA/P.Peron

Desperate living conditions and waterborne diseases are threatening more than 320,000 Rohingya refugee children who have fled to southern Bangladesh since late August, including about 10,000 who crossed from Myanmar over the past few days, UNICEF said today.

“Many Rohingya refugee children in Bangladesh have witnessed atrocities in Myanmar no child should ever see, and all have suffered tremendous loss,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake.

Well over half a million Rohingya people have crossed into Bangladesh’s southern district of Cox’s Bazaar since late August after escaping horrific violence in neighbouring Myanmar.

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They have joined some 200,000 others who came in earlier refugee influxes. Almost 60 per cent of the latest arrivals are children, crossing at a rate of between 1,200 and 1,800 per day.

In a newly-released report – Outcast and Desperate: Rohingya refugee children face a perilous future – UNICEF says that most of the refugees are living in overcrowded and insanitary makeshift settlements. Despite an expanding international aid effort led by the Government of Bangladesh, the essential needs of many children are not being met.

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“The refugees are still coming, but already we can see the appalling dangers that the children are facing,” says UNICEF Bangladesh Representative, Edouard Beigbeder. “Living in the open, with food, safe water and sanitation in desperately short supply, the risk of waterborne and other diseases is palpable.”

High levels of severe acute malnutrition among young children have been found in the camps, and antenatal services to mothers and babies are lacking. Support for children traumatised by violence also needs to be expanded.

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The report also says that in the chaotic setting of the camps, children and youth could fall prey to traffickers and others looking to exploit and manipulate them.

Ahead of an international pledging conference on 23 October in Geneva, UNICEF is urging donors to respond urgently to the requirements of the updated Bangladesh Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) released by the UN and humanitarian agencies.

It calls for $434 million, which includes US$76.1 million to address the immediate needs of newly arrived Rohingya children, as well as those who arrived before the recent influx, and children from vulnerable host communities.

Rohingya children are among some 50 million children who have been uprooted from their homes due to conflict, poverty and extreme weather. Last year, UNICEF launched the global campaign #ChildrenUprooted to highlight the plight of these highly vulnerable children.

RMN News

Rakesh Raman