The children who make up most of the nearly 600,000 Rohingya Muslims who have fled violence in Burma are experiencing a “hell on earth” in overcrowded, muddy and squalid refugee camps in neighbouring Bangladesh, Unicef has said.
The United Nation children’s agency has issued a report that documents the plight of children who account for 58 per cent of the refugees who have poured into Cox’s Bazar over the last eight weeks.
Report author Simon Ingram said about one in five children in the area were “acutely malnourished”. The report comes ahead of a donor conference in Switzerland, on Monday to drum up funding for the Rohingya.
“Many Rohingya refugee children in Bangladesh have witnessed atrocities in Myanmar [Burma] no child should ever see, and all have suffered tremendous loss,” Unicef executive director Anthony Lake said.
The refugees need clean water, food, sanitation, shelter and vaccines to help head off a possible outbreak of cholera, a potentially deadly water-borne disease.
Mr Ingram also warned of threats posed by human traffickers and others who might exploit youngsters in the refugee areas.
“These children just feel so abandoned, so completely remote, and without a means of finding support or help. In a sense, it’s no surprise that they must truly see this place as a hell on earth,” he said.
The report features harrowing colour drawings by some children being cared for by Unicef and other aid groups who are scrambling to improve living conditions in Cox’s Bazar. Some of the images show helicopter gunships and green-clad men firing on a village or at people.
The influx of Rohingya refugees from Burma began on 25 August as the military launched a crackdown it said was in response to militant attacks.
Refugees have fled burning villages and provided accounts – including the children’s drawings – of security forces gunning down civilians.
The UN and humanitarian agencies are seeking $434 million (about £328m) for the Rohingya refugees – of which about one-sixth of which would go to Unicef efforts to help children.
In a separate incident, police in northern Burma opened fire on hundreds of villagers who tried to enter a jade mine area on Wednesday night, killing at least five and injuring 20 others, state media said. Five policemen were also hurt, according to reports.
The state’s Hpakant township has much of the world’s highest-quality jade ore, most of which is mined by big companies. Piles of mining waste have collapsed on villagers several times, killing dozens.