Rohingya Muslims plight deepens as resource scarcity hits refugee camps

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With Rohingya refugees still flooding across the border from Myanmar, those packed into camps and makeshift settlements in Bangladesh were becoming desperate Saturday for scant basic resources as hunger and illness soared.

Fights were erupting over food and water. Women and children were tapping on car windows or tugging at the clothes of passing reporters while rubbing their bellies and begging for food. Health experts warned of the potential for outbreaks of disease.

Nearly 300,000 Rohingya have fled violence churning through Rakhine state into Bangladesh, the United Nations said on Saturday, as Myanmar's government for the first time offered humanitarian aid to members of the Muslim minority still inside the country.

The UN is braced for a further surge of arrivals in Bangladesh with tens of thousands more believed to be displaced in Rakhine, fleeing burning villages, the army and ethnic Rakhine mobs — who Rohingya refugees accuse of attacking civilians.

Myanmar denies the allegations, instead saying the Rohingya militants who sparked the crisis with deadly attacks on police posts on August 25 have spread fear by killing civilians and torching thousands of homes.

Exhausted, wounded and traumatised Rohingya have arrived in Bangladesh each day since violence erupted, with the young and old carried over hills and muddy fields in days-long treks or after treacherous boat journeys.

Bangladeshi authorities are planning to build a camp that could house a quarter of a million people.

But they have also urged Myanmar to stem the exodus by providing 'safe zones' for the Rohingya inside Rakhine.

“Some 290,000 Rohingya arrived in Bangladesh since August 25,” Joseph Tripura, a spokesman for the UN refugee agency, told AFP.

There were an estimated 1.1 million Rohingya, who are reviled as illegal immigrants and refused citizenship by Myanmar, living in Rakhine state.

Around a third of that number have fled since October when a new Rohingya militant group launched its first raids, sparking a crackdown by Myanmar's army.

Rights groups say the sheer volume of testimony by refugees alleging rape, murder and arson points to a brutal crackdown, in keeping with a systematic campaign to force the Rohingya out of the country.

It is not possible to verify their accounts as access to Rakhine is tightly controlled.

Those who have made it to Bangladesh have joined family members already encamped in the Cox's Bazar region or thrown up makeshift shelters on hills and roadsides as monsoon rains hammer down.

“They are deprived of everything. They are desperate for just basic survival,” Dipayan Bhattacharyya, acting World Food Programme (WFP) head in Bangladesh, told AFP, adding that they are handing out 25 kilogramme bags of rice to families.

Hungry Rohingya are running towards every food truck that arrives in the camps and already stretched aid agencies are now bracing for a new increase in numbers.

Humanitarian organisations have launched an appeal for $77m in response to the crisis, according to a statement by the UN resident coordinator's office in Bangladesh.

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