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UNHCR chief calls for stepped-up support for Rohingya refugees, thanks Bangladesh for keeping borders open

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UNHCR chief calls for stepped-up support for Rohingya refugees, thanks Bangladesh for keeping borders open

25 September 2017

Dhaka – UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi today called for support to be ramped up for an estimated 436,000 Rohingya refugees who have fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar in the last month, and the communities hosting them, and commended the Government and people of Bangladesh for their hospitality.

“Their situation remains desperate, and we risk a dramatic deterioration if aid is not rapidly stepped up," he said, following a visit yesterday to Kutupalong Refugee Camp and other areas along the border where people have made their own shelters on tiny slivers of land. "The people I met were deeply traumatized, and despite having found refuge in Bangladesh, they are still exposed to enormous hardship," Grandi said on the final day of his visit to the country.

"The spontaneous outpouring of support from the local community and people, companies and associations across the country has been phenomenal," he said, noting that the government had mobilized efforts at all levels, and that UNHCR and other partners are also scaling up.

"Despite every effort by those on the ground, the massive influx of people seeking safety rapidly outpaced capacities to respond, and the situation has still not stabilized. “More is needed, and fast, if we are to avoid further deterioration," Grandi said.

UNHCR has now airlifted three planes loaded with relief items into the country, and is distributing emergency shelter kits, kitchen sets and solar lamps. Our experts are working closely with the government to set up an organized site with water, sanitation and other facilities, and to register the new arrivals. Other international agencies and NGOs are also on the ground and playing an important role.

Grandi arrived in Bangladesh on Saturday – to see conditions for himself – after discussing the situation with Prime Minister Sheik Hasina, whom he met last week in New York at the annual gathering of the UN General Assembly. In Dhaka he is meeting the foreign minister as well as the ministers for home affairs and disaster management and relief.

“I thanked Sheik Hasina and I thank Bangladesh for keeping its borders open to receive these refugees,” Grandi said. “In today’s world that is something that cannot be taken for granted and should be appreciated.”

Grandi’s visited the area around Cox’s Bazar, where the UN Refugee Agency has been supporting the government in running two official camps since 1992. Over the years the number of registered refugees in the two camps has fluctuated and now stands at some 33,000. Before the latest influx, there were also an estimated 300,000 unregistered Rohingya refugees living in the area who fled Myanmar over the years.

Grandi met families who have lived in Kutupalong since 1992 and who have taken newly arrived refugees into their homes.

“I talked to people who had experienced the most unimaginable horrors,” Grandi said. “They had seen villages burned down, families shot or hacked to death, women and girls brutalized. Many of the refugees said they would like to go home, but there needs an end to violence, and a restoration of rights inside Myanmar,” Grandi said. “The report issued in August by the Rakhine Advisory Commission, led by Kofi Annan, provides an important road map for addressing the root causes that have contributed to the current crisis.”

Grandi discussed the importance of working towards solutions with Bangladeshi authorities and they agreed that a proper registration – conducted by the government and supported by UNHCR – will be crucial. A registration system would document where each individual refugee comes from and could help ensure everyone is eventually able to exercise the right to return when the time is right. UNHCR has maintained an international presence inside Northern Rakhine State, from where these refugees fled, although access has been restricted since the end of August.

“Solutions to this crisis lie within Myanmar,” Grandi said. "But for now, our immediate focus has to be to dramatically increase support to those who are so desperately in need."

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