Rohingya refugee crisis on the verge of becoming a humanitarian catastrophe in our region: more than 14,000 children in immediate danger of dying from malnutrition

SYDNEY, Monday 25 September 2017 – If critical life-saving assistance is not delivered in a strategic and orderly manner to the unprecedented population of Rohingya refugees who have arrived in Bangladesh, the threat of death from malnutrition, diseases like cholera and measles, frustration-driven rioting and escalating levels of sex and gender-based violence will see this crisis become a catastrophe, UNICEF Australia said today.
 
“The need is simply enormous,” said UNICEF Australia Senior Policy Advisor: Forced Migration, Oliver White, who has just returned from Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. “We currently have a huge life-threatening emergency where 14,420 children have been classified as severely and acutely malnourished – while over 154,000 children under 5 and almost 55,000 pregnant and lactating women need malnutrition prevention and treatment.
 
“In total, more than 300,000 Rohingya refugees are in need of nutritional assistance – a desperate situation which, if unaddressed, will quickly combine with profound levels of distress and the associated threats of disease and potential disorder to rapidly spin out of control.”
 
Mr White said the situation is an acutely complex emergency. In just one month, unprecedented numbers of people have arrived, including over 240,000 children. They have fled from a violent socio-political crisis in one country to another which was already struggling to manage its resources to respond to a natural disaster. And it is monsoon season. At the same time, the speed and size of the refugee influx has presented huge logistical challenges to the distribution of aid.
 
“We are talking about massive numbers of people who are arriving starving, with sick and wounded children, needing sanitation and shelter on a huge scale. While UNICEF and other humanitarian aid organisations are working around the clock, the sheer numbers of people are making logistics difficult - more financial support from governments and the public are desperately needed to augment already stretched existing aid,” he said.
 
Mr White said many Australians may not have been aware of the plight of the Rohingya people until this crisis developed. Yet, they have long been stateless and one of the most persecuted peoples in the world.
 
“This crisis is only beginning, and the situation is extremely fragile,” Mr White said. “It is absolutely critical that we are successful with this first phase of the humanitarian response because it not only lays the foundation for all measures to come, but will dramatically increase our chances of avoiding additional future harm.”
 
UNICEF has just provided vaccines, syringes and vitamin A capsules for a mass vaccination campaign against measles, rubella and polio to immunize all newly arrived children below the age of 15. Yesterday, a cargo plane with 100 tons of UNICEF supplies comprising water purifying tablets, family hygiene kits, sanitary materials, plastic tarpaulins, recreational kits for children and other items.
 
“If the world continues to rally to the aid of these people and their children, increasing financial support, we will be in a far better position to prevent this from escalating into an international humanitarian catastrophe to rank with some of the worst in our past,” Mr White said.
 
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Brinsley Marlay,
External Communication Manager: Policy and Advocacy, 0403 604 182, bmarlay@unicef.org.au