ReutersCOX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh (Reuters) — An estimated 270,000 Rohingya have sought refuge in Bangladesh over the past two weeks, the U.N. refugee agency said on Friday, announcing a dramatic jump in numbers fleeing violence in neighboring Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
A rights group said satellite images showed about 450 buildings had been burned down in a Myanmar border town largely inhabited by Rohingya, as part of what the Muslim minority refugees say is a concerted effort to expel them.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said the estimated number of Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh since violence erupted in Myanmar on Aug. 25 had risen from 164,000 on Thursday, after aid workers found big groups in border areas.
“We have identified more people in different areas that we were not aware of,” said Vivian Tan, a spokeswoman for UNHCR, while adding that there could be some double-counting.
“The numbers are so alarming — it really means that we have to step up our response and that the situation in Myanmar has to be addressed urgently.”
The latest flight of Rohingya began two weeks ago after Rohingya insurgents attacked security force posts in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. That triggered an army counteroffensive in which at least 400 people died.
The United States, a principle backer of Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government that came to power in Myanmar last year, said there had been shortcomings on the part of Myanmar security forces and the government in dealing with the situation.
Patrick Murphy, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asia, said Washington was calling in talks with Myanmar’s military and civilian leaders for urgent restoration of access to Rakhine State for humanitarian assistance and journalists.
He said the security forces must respond responsibly to the attacks that began the crisis, telling reporters: “They have a responsibility to carry out those activities in accordance with rule of law and international human rights.”
Rights groups briefed U.N. Security Council diplomats on the Myanmar violence on Friday. Russia and China did not send any diplomats, according to people at the meeting. Myanmar has said it is was counting on China and Russia to protect it from any Security Council censure.