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70,000 new, expectant mothers among Rohingya influx: BD

September 19, 2017

DHAKA: Bangladesh said on Monday there were 70,000 pregnant and breastfeeding mothers among the wave of Rohingya refugees who have entered the country after fleeing violence from Myanmar in the past three weeks.

The UN says 415,000 civilians from the Rohingya Muslim minority have arrived in Bangladesh since August 25, overwhelming refugee camps near the border that were unprepared for the sudden influx.

The majority of those crossing have been women and children, with aid agencies warning of an unfolding humanitarian crisis as authorities struggle to provide basic facilities for the desperate civilians.

In a briefing on the relief effort on Monday, Information Minister Hasanul Haq said a huge number -- roughly one in six -- of the new arrivals living in the camps were expectant or new mothers.

"Special care has been undertaken for 70,000 pregnant and breastfeeding mothers," Haq told reporters. The United Nations has warned of intolerable conditions in camps around the border town of Cox’s Bazar.

Haq added that roughly 16,000 toilets have been built across the sprawling camps to improve woeful sanitation standards, and check-posts erected to ensure security for those camping in open spaces.

The minister ruled out a military solution to the crisis, deflecting calls from hardline Islamists for Bangladesh to defend the persecuted Muslim minority. At least 20,000 hardliners rallied in Dhaka on Monday demanding an end to the "genocide" being perpetrated against the Rohingya, a reviled minority denied citizenship inside Myanmar.

"Bangladesh wants a diplomatic -- not military -- solution," Haq said. The government has promised to build new camps large enough to host 400,000 refugees, but has also rehashed an old plan to turn a desolate island into a new home for the Rohingya.

The existing camps are full, but Bangladesh has issued strict orders that the Rohingya do not leave designated areas, fearful that nearby cities could be swamped. Some 200 Rohingya have been sent back to the camps after relocating to nearby towns in recent days, police say. —