The United Nations refugee agency said that 270,000 Rohingya had fled the fighting in western Myanmar since late August. Credit Adam Dean for The New York Times
HONG KONG — The number of Rohingya who have fled fighting in western Myanmar has climbed sharply to 270,000, placing a huge strain on camps in Bangladesh where they are seeking shelter, the United Nations refugee agency said Friday.
Two refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar in southeast Bangladesh that were already home to nearly 34,000 Rohingya “are now bursting at the seams,” Duniya Aslam Khan, a spokeswoman for the refugee agency, said in a statement.
“The limited shelter capacity is already exhausted,” she said. “Refugees are now squatting in makeshift shelters that have mushroomed along the road and on available land in the Ukhiya and Teknaf areas.”
The sharp increase is the result of more people leaving Myanmar and a more detailed count of those already in Bangladesh, Mohammed Abdiker, director of operations and emergencies for the United Nations migration agency, the International Organization for Migration, said on Twitter.
The refugees in Bangladesh are mostly women and children who have arrived on foot, the United Nations refugee agency said. Some have tried to make dangerous crossings by boat. Last week, at least 46 Rohingya were found dead along the banks of the Naf River, which forms part of the border between Myanmar and Bangladesh.
The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic group that has faced severe repression in Myanmar, where a Buddhist majority has long ruled. About one million Rohingya live in Rakhine State in the west of the country. An additional 300,000 to 500,000 live in Bangladesh, many of them in grim refugee camps.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate for her long struggle against military rule, has come under increasing international criticism for the plight of the Rohingya. Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, also a Nobel laureate, wrote in a letter Thursday that it was “incongruous for a symbol of righteousness to lead such a country” that “is not at peace with itself, that fails to acknowledge and protect the dignity and worth of all its people.”
Senator John McCain of Arizona also wrote to Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi this week, noting that he had been her friend and supporter and calling on her “to take an active role in putting a stop to this worsening humanitarian crisis as it spreads throughout the country.”
The most recent surge of refugees came after a Rohingya militant group attacked several police posts and a military base in Rakhine on Aug. 25. The government of Myanmar said 15 members of the security forces and 370 militants were killed.
Refugees say the military and Buddhist vigilantes have attacked villages, stabbing and shooting people, and burning homes. The government of Myanmar denies citizenship rights to the Rohingya and claims instead that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Myanmar officials have blamed the Rohingya for fires that have been seen burning in many villages across Rakhine, saying they are burning their own homes.
A BBC correspondent on a government-chaperoned trip to Rakhine reported Thursday that he saw Rakhine Buddhist men walking from an unoccupied Rohingya village that had just caught fire. “One of them admitted he had lit the fires, and said he had help from the police,” wrote the correspondent, Jonathan Head.