As the Rohingya crisis escalates into an unfolding tragedy, the United Nations yesterday appealed to the world to support the ongoing humanitarian efforts for the refugees “regardless of politics”.
It also said aid agencies have to step up operations "massively" in response to the inflow of Rohingyas fleeing atrocities in Myanmar, and the amount of money needed to help them has risen sharply.
As Bangladesh struggles to cope with the unprecedented refugee influx, two planes have arrived here with supplies for 25,000 Rohingyas, and further flights are planned so that 1,20,000 people can be reached in total.
One of the two flights that arrived on Tuesday was chartered by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). It carried shelter materials, sleeping mats and other emergency supplies.
The cargo has been loaded onto trucks which will transport the supplies to the refugee camps in Cox's Bazar, said Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for the UN secretary-general.
A second flight, donated by the United Arab Emirates, came with some 2,000 family tents.
"We will all have to ramp up our response massively, from food to shelter," George William Okoth-Obbo, assistant high commissioner for operations at the UN refugee agency, told Reuters during a visit to the Kutupalong refugee camp yesterday.
"We have an emergency within an emergency with conditions in existing camps," he said, pointing to a mud-clogged road in the camp.
The call came as the UN Security Council was slated to hold a closed-door meeting on the deteriorating situation in Myanmar's Rakhine State at the request of Sweden and Britain.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the Security Council to press for restraint and calm, sending the 15-member body a rare letter on September 5.
He expressed concern that the violence could spiral into a “humanitarian catastrophe with implications for peace and security that could continue to expand beyond Myanmar's borders”.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have also accused the UNSC of ignoring the “textbook case of ethnic cleansing” as dubbed by the UN human rights chief.
“We have made very clear our concern at the ongoing tragedy of the Rohingyas, people who have been forced to leave their homes. The reports we're getting, the pictures all of us are seeing are heart-breaking to say the least,” Dujarric told reporters at his daily noon briefing at the UN headquarters in New York on Tuesday.
“I think the entire international community should support the ongoing humanitarian efforts, regardless of politics. These are people in need. These are very vulnerable people who have crossed the border, who've, as we said, are hungry and are malnourished and deserve to be helped,” he said.
The spokesperson was responding to a question on role of regional players in helping Rohingya refugees.
“Are you disappointed that major regional players, including India, in particular, have actually sort of made their stand about this Rohingya crisis very clear and actually not come out and supported when their support could have been quite crucial?” he was asked.
Dujarric said UN's humanitarian wing have done emergency planning for about 3,00,000 Rohingya refugees. “That number has now definitely crossed that line. We are urgently appealing for more funds,” he said.
As of yesterday, an estimated 3,89,000 Myanmar nationals have arrived in Bangladesh in the face of what Bangladesh government and many others internationally called “genocide”.
In Bangladesh, the UN humanitarian agencies operating in Cox's Bazar called for urgent need of $77 million to assist people who have fled violence in Rakhine.
“The Response Plan, developed as a result of the influx of people to Cox's Bazar, outlines the life-saving support UN agencies and international NGOs are aiming to provide 3,00,000 people until the end of 2017, according to a statement of Office of the UN Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh on September 9.
About UN appeals of $77 million to cope with the crisis, George William Okoth-Obbo of UNHCR said that would not now be enough.
“The appeal that was issued $77 million on behalf of the aid agencies was based on the situation as it was about two weeks ago,” he said.
“There were only 1,00,000 people then. We are already four times that figure now.”
In the UN press briefing, spokesperson Dujarric said: “Whether it's UNHCR, WFP and other agencies, [we] are trying to get as much aid into the country as quickly as possible. Obviously, from what we've read out, we haven't been able to reach all the people that we need to.
“The added challenge is that a lot of people are crossing the border, going to makeshift settlements, or otherwise living outside more organised structures, which could make it easier for us to reach them.”
The UN spokesperson said the government of Bangladesh has asked the UN to help establish a new camp to house the newly arrived refugees.
He noted that the UN World Food Programme is providing food to some 70,000 people as they arrive in Cox's Bazar and to nearly 60,000 people living in camps and makeshift settlements.
The Spokesperson also said most aid activities in northern Rakhine state remain either suspended or severely interrupted, although the government is delivering some aid through the Red Cross.
“Most aid activities on the part of UN agencies and international non-governmental organisations across northern Rakhine remain either suspended or severely interrupted, although some assistance is being delivered by the government and through the Red Cross,” he said.
“The UN and its partners continue to offer support to the government to meet the needs of all affected communities and are liaising with authorities to resume humanitarian operations as soon as possible.”
EU STEPS UP ASSISTANCE
The European Commission announced additional humanitarian aid of €3 million to address the most pressing needs of Rohingya civilians.
The funding comes on top of the €12 million announced in May 2017 when Commissioner Stylianides visited Rakhine. "The European Union is providing further emergency humanitarian aid as the situation continues to be critical.
This additional funding will help provide emergency shelter, water, food and health assistance for newly arrived refugees in Bangladesh and people in need in Myanmar, as soon as humanitarian access to the latter is restored.
The EU continues to call for full humanitarian access and the respect for international human rights law in Myanmar.
“The immediate restoration of humanitarian assistance in northern Rakhine State is needed in order to address what is already a precarious humanitarian situation, and to avoid an escalation of the crisis. I thank the government and people of Bangladesh for their hospitality in sheltering many refugees. The European Union remains committed to support those who are forced to flee their homes during these difficult times," said the Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Christos Stylianides.
EU High Representative Federica Mogherini in a statement in Brussels on Monday said that she is following the dramatic developments in Rakhine and at the border region in Bangladesh closely.
“The European Union has raised its concerns as recently as last Friday in direct contacts with Myanmar government members … the priority is now to obtain immediate humanitarian access again, and to address in parallel the root causes of the conflict by implementing the Annan Advisory Commission recommendations to this end,” she said.
We are in close contact with Bangladeshi authorities and are stepping up our humanitarian engagement there,”
Four Hercules planes carrying 34 tonnes of aid for Rohingya refugees will arrive in Chittagong today while Indonesia's President Joko Widodo calls for an immediate end to violence in Myanmar's Rakhine state and promised significant humanitarian aid.”
Presidential spokesman Johan Budi said the planes are carrying rice, instant meals, family kits, tents, water tanks and blankets, have departed for Bangladesh from an air force base in the Indonesian capital.
It's the first batch of aid from Indonesia following discussions with Myanmar and Bangladesh, he added.
India, which has been facing criticism at home and abroad for its anti-Rohingya stance, yesterday announced that an aircraft carrying first consignment of humanitarian assistance will land in Chittagong Airport at 11:00am today.
“This relief is coming for Rohingya refugees,” said an Indian diplomat in Dhaka, adding that Indian High Commissioner Harsh Vardhan Shringla will hand over the relief material to Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his Myanmar visit expressed concern over “extremist violence” in Rakhine but did not mention the persecution of minority Rohingyas.
Later, the official spokesperson of Ministry of External Affairs on September 9 urged that the situation in Rakhine be handled with “restraint and maturity”, with focus on the “welfare of the civilian population alongside those of the security forces.”
Morocco has sent humanitarian aid to support refugees in Bangladesh, said the country's foreign ministry on Monday. The Moroccan aid supply includes tents, covers, basic food and medicines, the statement noted.
Also on Monday, the UN refugee agency on Monday welcomed a personal donation of $1 million from Tadashi Yanai, chairman, president and CEO of Fast Retailing Co, parent company of Japan's leading apparel brand, UNIQLO.
The funds donated by Yanai will be used for UNHCR to provide life-saving humanitarian assistance to Rohingya refugees newly arrived in Bangladesh.