Dhaka, Bangladesh
Cyclone, violence threats loom over Rohingya kids

Cyclone, violence threats loom over Rohingya kids

Unicef calls for recognition of their rights, ending violenc

The Unicef has sought urgent efforts to help more than 720,000 Rohingya children who are threatened either by the approaching cyclone season in Bangladesh or by ongoing violence and denial of their basic rights in Myanmar, reports UNB The Unicef on Friday called on the Myanmar government to end the violence, and to address what it terms a crisis of human rights in Rakhine State, referring to restrictions on Rohingya people's freedom of movement, extremely limited access to health care, education and livelihoods, and consequent dependence on humanitarian support. In a report marking six months since the start of the latest exodus of Rohingya refugees into southern Bangladesh, Unicef says that floods caused by the forthcoming cyclone season are likely to engulf the fragile and insanitary camps where the most of the refugees are living, raising the likelihood of waterborne disease outbreaks and forcing clinics, learning centres and other facilities for children to close. According to the report, an estimated 185,000 Rohingya children remain in Myanmar's Rakhine State, fearful of the violence and horror that drove so many of their relatives and neighbours to flee. In Bangladesh, there are estimated to be around 534,000 Rohingya refugee children from last year's and previous influxes. "Some 720,000 Rohingya children are essentially trapped - either hemmed in by violence and forced displacement inside Myanmar or stranded in overcrowded camps in Bangladesh because they can't return home," said Manuel Fontaine, Unicef Director of Emergency Programmes. "This is a crisis without a quick fix that could take years to resolve unless there is a concerted effort to address its root causes." Chased from their homes and communities, the Rohingya are a people cast adrift, trapped in limbo and deprived of their basic rights, while facing fresh threats to their health and lives, the report states. The report titled 'LIVES IN LIMBO: No End in Sight to the threats facing Rohingya children' says that the recognition of the Rohingya people's basic rights would create conditions necessary for the refugees to return to their former homes in Myanmar. "People won't go home unless they are guaranteed safety and security, unless they have citizenship, unless they can send their children to school and have a chance of a future," said Fontaine. Since August 2017, lack of access to many parts of Rakhine State has severely restricted the work of Unicef and other humanitarian agencies. Unicef says that immediate and unimpeded access to all children in the state is imperative, as well as longer-term efforts to address intercommunal tension and promote social cohesion. In Bangladesh, aid efforts led and overseen by the government have averted disaster, while 79,000 Rohingya have been accommodated by local communities. Unicef has been part of a huge international response, supporting the digging of water borewells, the installation of thousands of latrines and immunization campaigns to protect children against cholera, measles and other diseases. Another message from Bangkok adds: First, their villages were burned to the ground. Now, Myanmar's government is using bulldozers to literally erase them from the earth - in a vast operation rights groups say is destroying crucial evidence of mass atrocities against the nation's ethnic Rohingya Muslim minority. Satellite images of Myanmar's troubled Rakhine state, released to The Associated Press by Colorado-based DigitalGlobe on Friday, show that dozens of empty villages and hamlets have been completely leveled by authorities in recent weeks - far more than previously reported. The villages were all set ablaze in the wake of violence last August, when a brutal clearance operation by security forces drove hundreds of thousands of Rohingya into exile in Bangladesh. While Myanmar's government claims it's simply trying to rebuild a devastated region, the operation has raised deep concern among human rights advocates, who say the government is destroying what amounts to scores of crime scenes before any credible investigation takes place. The operation has also horrified the Rohingya, who believe the government is intentionally eviscerating the dwindling remnants of their culture to make it nearly impossible for them to return. One displaced Rohingya woman, whose village was among those razed, said she recently visited her former home in Myin Hlut and was shocked by what she saw. Most houses had been torched last year, but now, "everything is gone, not even the trees are left," the woman, named Zubairia, told AP by telephone. "They just bulldozed everything ... I could hardly recognize it." The 18-year-old said other homes in the same area that had been abandoned but not damaged were also flattened. "All the memories that I had there are gone," she said. "They've been erased." Myanmar's armed forces are accused not just of burning Muslim villages with the help of Buddhist mobs, but of carrying out massacres, rapes and widespread looting. The latest crisis in Rakhine state began in August after Rohingya insurgents launched a series of unprecedented attacks on security posts. Aerial photographs of leveled villages in northern Rakhine State were first made public Feb. 9 when the European Union's ambassador to Myanmar, Kristian Schmidt, posted images taken from an aircraft of what he described as a "vast bulldozed area" south of the town of Maungdaw. Satellite imagery from DigitalGlobe indicates at least 28 villages or hamlets were leveled by bulldozers and other machinery in a 30-mile (50-kilometer) radius around Maungdaw between December and February; on some of the cleared areas, construction crews had erected new buildings or housing structures and helipads. A similar analysis by Human Rights Watch on Friday said at least 55 villages have been affected so far. The images offer an important window into what is effectively a part of Myanmar that is largely sealed off to the outside world. Myanmar bars independent media access to the state. The government has spoken of plans to rebuild the region for months, and it has been busily expanding roads, repairing bridges, and constructing shelters, including dozens at a large transit camp at Taungpyo, near the Bangladesh border. The camp opened in January to house returning refugees; but none have arrived and Rohingya have continued to flee. Myint Khine, a government administrator in Maungdaw, said some of the new homes were intended for Muslims. But that does not appear to be the case for the majority of those built or planned so far, and many Rohingya fear authorities are seizing land they've lived on for generations. One list, published by the government in December, indicated 787 houses would be constructed, most of them for Buddhists or Hindus. Only 22 of the houses were slated for "Bengalis" - the word Myanmar nationalists often use to describe the Rohingya, who they say are illegal migrants from Bangladesh. Myint Khine said the government had no ulterior motive. "Of course we have been using machines like earth removers and bulldozers because we have to clear the ground first before building new houses," he said. Chris Lewa, whose Arakan Project monitors the persecuted Muslim minority's plight, said the degree to which the villages had been razed would make it even harder for the Rohingya, who have no citizenship and few rights, to ever reclaim their land. "How will they identify where they lived, if nothing is left, if nothing can be recognized?" Lewa said. "Their culture, their history, their past, their present - it's all being erased. When you see the pictures, it's clear that whatever was left - the mosques, the cemeteries, the homes - they're gone." Richard Weir, a Myanmar expert with Human Rights Watch, said on the images he had seen, "there's no more landmarks, there's no trees, there's no vegetation." "Everything is wiped away, and this is very concerning, because these are crime scenes," he said. "There's been no credible investigation of these crimes. And so, what we're talking about really is obstruction of justice." Both Weir and Lewa said no mass graves were known to have been destroyed. But, Weir added: "We don't know where all the graves are ... because there is no access." Zubairia, who asked that only one of her names be used to protect her identify because she feared reprisals, said she did not believe any of the newly constructed homes were intended for Rohingya. "Even if they give us small houses to live in, it will never be the same for us," she said. "How can we be happy about our houses being ripped off from our land?"

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