UNICEF: Rohingya children trapped in appalling conditions in Myanmar’s Rakhine state

FNA- The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that more than 60,000 Rohingya children remain nearly forgotten, trapped in appalling camps in central Rakhine where the shelters teeter on stilts above garbage and excrement.

“Partners have identified about 20 children separated from their families during the violence but estimate the total number to be at least 100 – most of whom are in parts of Northern Rakhine state that they still cannot access,” Marixie Mercado, UNICEF Spokesperson told journalists in Geneva, according to the UN News Centre.

She painted a harrowing picture of the situation in Rakhine, noting that prior to 25 August, when the most recent outbreak of violence occurred, UNICEF had been treating 4,800 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition; these children are no longer receiving this life-saving treatment.

“All 12 of the outpatient therapeutic treatment centres run by our partners are closed because they were either looted, destroyed or staff can’t access them,” she underscored.

Mercado called the inability of UN agencies to access vulnerable Rohingya children who remain in Northern Myanmar “troubling,” saying that while “the eyes of the world” are focused on the 655,000 refugees who have fled across the border into Bangladesh, 60,000 Rohingya children remain “almost forgotten,” trapped in squalid camps in central Rakhine.

“The Rohingya children who do remain in rural areas are almost totally isolated. We hear of high levels of toxic fear in children from both Rohingya and Rakhine communities,” she stressed.

The Spokesperson described two of the worst camps that she visited, in Pauktaw Township – reachable only by a four-to-five-hour boat ride.

“The first thing you notice when you reach the camps is the stomach-churning stench. Parts of the camps are literally cesspools. Shelters teeter on stilts above garbage and excrement,” she recounted, adding that “Children walk barefoot through the muck. One camp manager reported four deaths among children ages 3-10 within the first 18 days of December.”

“Rohingya children need a political solution to the issue of legal identity and citizenship. In the interim they need to be recognized first and foremost as children, she said, stressing that the Convention on the Rights of the Child guarantees rights to health, education and opportunities to learn and grow to all children, irrespective of their ethnicity or status or the circumstances in which they find themselves.

More than 655,000 of Myanmar’s Muslim minority have fled across the border to Bangladesh since late August when the Myanmar army launched a sweeping crackdown on Rohingya Muslims in Northern Rakhine state.

The UN has already described the Rohingya as the most persecuted community in the world, calling the situation in Rakhine similar to “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

The Myanmarese government, however, denies committing atrocities against the Rohingya people and has even rejected UN criticism for its “politicization and partiality.”

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra‘ad al-Hussein stressed that attacks on the Rohingya had been “well thought out and planned” and he had asked Myanmar’s de facto leader to do more to stop the military atrocities.