KUTUPALONG CAMP, Bangladesh – In the Kutupalong camp, a few kilometers from the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, young Rohingya girls stand around cradling newborns in their arms along with heavily-pregnant women whose “niqabs” fail to hide their oversized bellies, while the children amuse themselves by sliding around in the mud, totally oblivious of the gravity of the situation.
Nearly a third of the Rohingya refugees who have fled to Bangladesh since Aug. 25 are minors, below the age of 18, and are the actual victims of this spiraling humanitarian crisis.
“In a natural catastrophe the first ones to die are children and mothers, in a crisis such as this one, the mothers and children are the first ones who need to be attended to,” officer-in-charge of UNICEF in Bangladesh, Sara Bordas, told EFE on Wednesday.
At last count there were 220,000 children in permanent refugee camps and makeshift shelters or in shacks in new camps in the Cox’s Bazar district in southeastern Bangladesh.
This is 60 percent of the 379,000 Rohingyas who, according to the United Nations, have arrived in the country since Aug. 25.
The figure is even more dramatic considering that 23 percent of them are below the age of five, Bordas told EFE.
“There is total chaos here but we are trying to fine-tune our procedures to reach as many people as possible,” Bordas added.
UNICEF has quadrupled its staff in Bangladesh and reinforced supplies to the country to attend to the ever-growing influx of refugees.
The Rohingyas are not recognized by Myanmar, while Bangladesh considers them foreigners and confines them in camps with scant facilities.
In October 2016, shortly after Bangladesh allowed the opening of informal schools for Rohingya children, over 80,000 Rohingyas arrived in the country.
Currently UNICEF runs around 166 such schools and 41 protection centers in the makeshift camps in Kutupalong, Leda, Shamlapur and Bhalukali, that also provide counseling services to minors.
Bordas warns it will take another two to three weeks before the situation can be brought under control.
“One of the most important things to do right now is organize the chaos,” she said.