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Press Release

As 60 Rohingya refugees reported to have drowned, IRC raises new humanitarian concerns

  • 60 people are believed to have drowned when their boat capsised fleeing from violence in Myanmar for Bangladesh
  • Shelter, health and protection of women and children are top humanitarian concern

Sanna Johnson, IRC's Regional Director said: "Whether forced to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh or stuck in northern Myanmar, cut off from essential services and lifesaving aid, Rohingya refugees have no safe place to call home. Today's reported drownings are a tragic reminder of this desperation. As the largest health care provider in Rakhine State, the IRC is deeply alarmed by conditions on both sides of the border and calls for immediate access to reach those communities in need."

The International Rescue Committee's top humanitarian concerns are:

1. Shelter

With up to 50,000 people crossing the border into Bangladesh every day, authorities and aid agencies can’t work quickly enough to provide adequate shelter for refugees. IRC staff report miles of densely packed makeshift shelters, assembled from bamboo and plastic sheeting, crammed together on extremely muddy land adjacent to the road side. Exposed to the sun and rain, with only a few sparse trees to shelter under, women, children and babies are at the mercy of the elements.

One woman described her journey; upon escaping her ransacked village, she fled with her seven children, sleeping in the forest for two nights and wading through water neck-deep, before crossing the border. She was able to buy some materials for a bamboo frame using cash she had been given by a local imam.

On the other side of the border, displaced Rohingya communities remaining in Rakhine’s camps are forced to live, sleep and eat in longhouses, sharing with up to ten other families. “It’s like a cage where the birds are kept,” said one girl.

2. Health

Before the outbreak of violence at the end of August, the IRC’s mobile health unit visited over 20 sites across Rakhine state, serving both Muslim Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine (predominantly Buddhist) communities with treatment for malnutrition and diseases like TB. Since military and government-enforced restrictions on humanitarian access, these communities have been cut off from lifesaving services.

One community health worker living in a Rohingya camp in Sittwe told the IRC it had been weeks, even months, since aid agencies – largely responsible for the subsistence of Rohingya communities -had visited to bring food, medicine and supplies and the consequences were tragic. With no ambulance service to refer them to hospital, over the past few weeks alone two women with complicated pregnancies lost their babies.

On the Bangladeshi border, the conditions are abysmal. With the complete lack of services, refugees have not been able to wash for several days and are forced to defecate in the open. There is also immense need for psycho-social support to address the trauma that people have faced having to flee for their lives.

3. Protection of women and children

The majority of refugees crossing the border are pregnant women and mothers with young children and babies. Sleeping out in the open and walking deep into the forest at night to go to the toilet puts them at increased risk of abuse. Separated children – lost during the panic of flight – are also more vulnerable to exploitation.

Risks for women and girls in the camps in Rakhine are just as worrisome. The IRC has heard reports of girls being raped or abused when collecting firewood and being pulled out of school to marry young. Girls have told us: “It doesn’t feel safe going to the toilet at night, something might happen because there is no electricity.”

While humanitarian access in northern Myanmar is still restricted, the IRC is gradually resuming critical health and protection programmes for both Muslim camps and Rakhine villages. But it’s not enough. The IRC calls for immediate, unfettered and unconditional humanitarian access to all areas in need - regardless of their race, religion and ethnicity.

IRC spokespeople available in Myanmar, London, New York and Washington DC.



About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 29 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue-uk.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.