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UNHCR appeals to Bangladesh to uphold its traditional solidarity for people fleeing violence and unrest

Press Releases, 15 June 2012

UNHCR is deeply concerned that people fleeing violence in Myanmar's Rakhine State are not able to find the safety and security they desperately need.

The UN refugee agency has first-hand, credible accounts of boats from Myanmar not being enabled to access Bangladeshi territory. These reports indicate women, children and some wounded are onboard.

Dramatic scenes of people fleeing violence in Myanmar are being reported. There are now a number of boats drifting in the mouth of the Naf River with desperate people onboard in need of water, food and medical care. It is vital that these people are allowed access to a safe haven and shelter.

UNHCR recognizes that, for years, Bangladesh has been bearing the brunt of the forced displacement caused by earlier crises in Myanmar. The latest events pose new challenges and UNHCR hopes that Bangladesh will respond in line with the country's long history of compassion and solidarity.

Meanwhile, UNHCR is closely following the developments in Myanmar's Rakhine state where the situation remains fragile and volatile following rapid escalation of violence last week.

On Wednesday and Thursday (13 and 14 June), the team of UN representatives in Myanmar, including UNHCR, joined the visit of the Myanmar Minister of Border Affairs State to the areas affected by the recent riots. The aim of this mission was to get a snapshot assessment of the security situation, the scale of displacement and the

immediate humanitarian needs.

According to initial findings, the security situation in the affected areas is tense. The government efforts to restore the rule of law are continuing. The UN team visited several locations in the areas affected by the violence. Enroute the team saw a number of smouldering villages. Considering the level of destruction seen in the area we estimate that the displacement and the needs could be considerable. Myanmar authorities estimate some 30,000 people have been displaced and are in need of food, shelter and medical attention.

"I am hopeful that calm will be restored in Myanmar so that those who have been affected by the violence can receive the assistance that they need and the vital work of rebuilding relations between the communities can begin,” said UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Erika Feller. “UNHCR is eager to restart its activities in the affected area and support all communities. We hope people will be able to return to their homes soon and start the process of rebuilding their lives."

UNHCR is encouraged by statements of Myanmar senior officials from President Thein Sein down aimed at defusing the situation and appealing for calm, patience and restraint and their calls for a collective reconciliation effort.

The UN refugee agency stands ready to provide assistance and support to the governments and the people of Bangladesh and Myanmar in addressing this evolving humanitarian situation.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Geneva: Andrej Mahecic on mobile: +41 79 200 76 17

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Advocacy is a key element in UNHCR activities to protect people of concern.

Returnees in Myanmar

During the early 1990s, more than 250,000 Rohingya Muslims fled across the border into Bangladesh, citing human rights abuses by Myanmar's military government. In exile, refugees received shelter and assistance in 20 camps in the Cox's Bazaar region of Bangladesh. More than 230,000 of the Rohingya Muslims have returned since 1992, but about 22,000 still live in camps in Bangladesh. To promote stability in returnee communities in Myanmar and to help this group of re-integrate into their country, UNHCR and its partner agencies provide monitors to insure the protection and safety of the returnees as well as vocational training, income generation schemes, adult literacy programs and primary education.

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Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh

In 1991, some 250,000 refugees from Myanmar's Northern Rakhine state fled by boat and on foot to neighbouring Bangladesh, where they were sheltered in 20 camps in the Cox's Bazar district. While the majority of these refugees eventually returned home, some 20,500 people – mostly Rohingya, a Muslim minority ethnic group – remain in two of the original camps.

Conditions in these camps are below standard, with many refugees living in overcrowded shelters in desperate need of repair. Frequent heavy rains inundate the area, further damaging shelters and spreading disease. Harassment and discrimination add to the plight of the Rohingya refugees, the majority of whom say that they do not want to return home until there is peace and democracy in Myanmar.

The UNHCR has expanded its routine protection monitoring in Cox's Bazar to address the problems of sexual and gender-based violence as well as trafficking of women and children. The UN refugee agency continues to work with governments, other UN agencies and non-governmental organisations to try and find a durable solution for the Rohingya refugees.

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