29 Mar 2013

UN issues grim warning on Rohingya refugees

10:17 pm on 29 March 2013

The United Nations says tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims living in squalid camps after fleeing communal unrest are in danger from monsoon rains.

An estimated 125,000 Rohingya and other Muslims have been in the camps since violence flared last year with ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, leaving scores dead and whole neighbourhoods in ruins, AFP reports.

With the monsoon expected to start in May, UN officials are urging the Myanmar government to release new land for camps and help repair neighbourhoods destroyed in a recent outbreak of violence.

Refugees "are now in imminent danger of yet another tragedy when the monsoon rains hit. ... We must act immediately to prevent a predictable tragedy," said John Ging of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on Friday.

"The gravity and urgency of the situation cannot be overstated. Community and religious leaders also have a major role in promoting a culture of peace and mutual respect in multicultural and multi-ethnic Myanmar," he said.

Deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, Phil Robertson, says curbs on relief to the camps are creating a "crisis that will become a disaster when the rainy season arrives".

Medical aid agency Doctors Without Borders has said a lack of clean drinking water in the camps has caused skin infections, worms, chronic coughing and diarrhoea while many malnourished people are going without urgent medical care.

Thousands of Rohingya have fled Myanmar in recent months on rickety boats, mostly believed to be heading for Malaysia.

Myanmar views its population of roughly 800,000 Rohingya as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and denies them citizenship.

As well, the country's non-Rohingya Muslims have been targeted by violence led by Buddhist mobs in central Myanmar since March 20.

At least 40 people have been killed and mosques burned in the wave of anti-Muslim violence in central Myanmar.