Bangladeshi troops will deliver aid to desperate Rohingya refugees massed in Cox’s Bazar, authorities said today, as fresh satellite images lent weight to allegations of a “scorched earth” campaign by Myanmar’s army to drive out the Muslim minority. The relief effort for the estimated 391,000 Rohingya who have arrived at the border town in the last three weeks has been ad hoc and plagued by disorganisation as local aid workers are overwhelmed by the human tide. With fears mounting that those in most need are not receiving basic aid — despite handouts by local volunteers — Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said the army would be deployed to distribute aid sent by donor nations.
Lieutenant Colonel Rashidul Hasan on Friday told AFP the orders had reached the crisis zone. “We’ve got the directive that the army would receive relief materials sent by foreign nations at the airport and take it to Cox’s Bazar,” he said. It was not immediately clear how quickly food and medicine would reach the refugees, many of whom are huddled on roadsides and patches of land. But the World Health Organisation and UNICEF said they would launch vaccination campaigns on Saturday against measles, rubella and polio, targeting 150,000 newly arrived children.
UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado said they were also screening children for malnutrition. Last week, there were more than “1,100 unaccompanied and separated children, and we estimate that those numbers will rise sharply”, she added. Around one third of Myanmar’s Rohingya population have fled northern Rakhine state for Bangladesh since August 25, when raids by Rohingya militants triggered the massive military campaign. The United Nations has warned that the rest of the population may soon follow, deepening the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Bangladesh where some 10,000 refugees are arriving daily.
Myanmar faced renewed pressure Friday as fresh satellite images emerged of scorched villages across Rakhine state, fuelling accusations the military is systematically driving out Rohingya Muslims in what the UN says is an ethnic cleansing campaign. Human Rights Watch said 62 villages in the Rohingya- majority area have been targeted by arson attacks, with more than half showing “extensive building destruction”. Amnesty International also released images of dozens of razed communities, alleging Myanmar’s security forces have led “systematic” clearances of Rohingya Muslim settlements. “Rakhine state is on fire,” said Olof Blomqvist, a researcher with Amnesty International, in a “clear campaign of ethnic cleansing by the Myanmar security forces”.