Rohingya toll mounts over outbreak of disease as Bangladesh plans separate shelters


World, South Asia

More than 200 Rohingya are being treated in Sadar Hospital, which has been inundated with patients.

Rohingya Muslims, who crossed over from Myanmar into Bangladesh, wait to receive handouts near Balukhali refugee camp, Bangladesh. (Photo: AP)

Dhaka: Bangladesh said it is planning to build separate shelters for 6,000 Rohingya Muslim children who entered the country without parents to escape violence in neighboring Myanmar.

Junior minister Nuruzzaman Ahmed said Tuesday the social welfare ministry has asked local authorities for 200 acres (80 hectares) of land to build facilities for the children, and about 1,580 children have already been registered.

The UN children's agency UNICEF has identified about 1,800 children who fled Myanmar without parents after violence broke out on Aug. 25, but Ahmed said the total number of such children is about 6,000.

Children make up about 60 percent of the more than 420,000 Rohingya Muslims who have poured into Bangladesh over the last four weeks to flee persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.

With no money even to bury his eight-year-old daughter, Ali Hossain broke down as he recounted her final moments, the latest Rohingya refugee to die in Bangladesh as fears mount over outbreaks of disease.

The little girl was among some 436,000 Rohingya Muslims who fled a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar's Rakhine, making the dangerous journey across the border to neighbouring Bangladesh.

But her bid for safety ended when she fell victim to an intestinal infection, likely triggered by poor sanitation as well as food and water shortages in the overcrowded makeshift camps that are home to the Rohingya.

She died on Monday, hours after she was admitted to a state-run hospital in the border town of Cox's Bazar.

More than 200 Rohingya are being treated in Sadar Hospital, which has been inundated with patients, with a shortage of beds forcing doctors to house the sick on sheets spread out on the floor.

Nurses said at least 20 refugees, mostly children, have died in that hospital alone since the influx began, after attacks by Rohingya militants on Myanmar police posts on August 25 sparked a sweeping crackdown.

But official figures from the Bangladesh authorities say that just 10 Rohingya have died throughout the camps around Cox's Bazar.

Police have set up checkpoints around the camps -- to stop refugees going to other parts of the country -- and are only allowing ambulances to ferry patients in and out of the area.

"We don't stop any sick and injured refugees from going to the hospitals," a policeman at one checkpoint told AFP.

"And there have been a lot of Rohingya who have gone to hospitals in the past few days," he said.

Relief agencies have warned that diarrhoea, cholera and pneumonia could spread quickly among the refugees who are living in squalid conditions, putting further pressure on overstretched hospitals.

"This extra influx has piled up a huge burden on our resources. But we are trying very hard to manage these cases to our best level," Sadar Hospital spokesman Abdur Rahman told AFP.

"We have limited resources, limited medicine, limited manpower, limited food," he said.

"If we cannot control these (cases), there will be a high chance of epidemics of diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery."