Dhaka, Jan 24 (Just News): Improved security and unimpeded humanitarian access to Myanmar must be ensured before Rohingya children are sent back from Bangladesh, a top UNICEF official said on Wednesday.
“Some 58% of the refugees are children, many of whom are still traumatised by their experiences of violence”, UNICEF deputy executive director Justin Forsyth said speaking from the Kutapalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar.
“It is critical that their rights and needs in terms of protection and aid are front and centre in any agreement to return families to Myanmar. Return of refugees to Myanmar must be voluntary, safe and dignified,” he added.
The vast Kutupalong camp shelters many of the 688,000 Rohingya refugees who have fled across the border from Myanmar’s Rakhine state following an outbreak of violence there in late August last year.
The UNICEF official pointed out that in just the last few days, there were reports of fires and shooting in villages across the border.
“Until the safety and wellbeing of any child returning to Myanmar can be guaranteed, talk of repatriation is premature,” he argued.
Appreciating Bangladesh authorities for giving shelter to Rohingya despite difficulties, Forsyth said with the rainy season approaching, there are still huge challenges ahead.
“Conditions in the camps here are undoubtedly harsh - the overcrowding, the shortages of clean water, sanitation, health care and education all carry a particular risk for children.”
A UNICEF news release said it has dug hundreds of wells, installed up to 16,000 toilets, helped immunise nearly a million children and adults against cholera, screened 335,000 children for malnutrition, and provided learning for nearly 80,000 children.
Even so, waterborne and other diseases are a constant threat in the overcrowded camps, which need to be urgently decongested to ensure basic facilities reach all inhabitants. Currently, up to 100 people must use a single latrine and water supplies often run short.
UNICEF said nearly 220,000 children are currently deprived of an education.
“The longer these children remain without the chance to learn, the greater the risk that they will miss out on the chance to build a future for themselves and their families,” Forsyth said.