Nearly 270,000 Rohingya Muslims escaped renewed violence in the Rakhine State of Myanmar and fled to Bangladesh over the past two weeks, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said on Friday.
“This is an alarming number,” UNHCR spokesperson Vivian Tan said. “The existing camps are full to the capacity. There is a lot of pressure on relief agencies to accommodate the rising numbers.”
Ms. Tan said the number is still a rough estimate. The surge in the number of people fleeing Myanmar was sparked by clashes between government troops and insurgents that began on August 25.
Yanghee Lee, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights for Myanmar, told CNN International that at least 1,000 people have been killed since the new wave of violence began, but noted the figure is “very likely an underestimate.”
She said it is hard to verify the death toll given the lack of access to the affected areas.
“The limited shelter capacity is already exhausted. Refugees are now squatting in makeshift shelters that have mushroomed along the road and on available land in the Ukhiya and Teknaf areas,” UNHCR spokesperson Duniya Aslam Khan said in a statement on Friday.
“While most of Rohingya refugees arrive on foot, mostly walking through the jungle and mountains for several days, thousands are braving long and risky voyages across the rough seas of the Bay of Bengal,” she said.
The U.N. had previously said up to 300,000 people could be displaced.
The Rohingya, a largely-Muslim, stateless minority, have faced discrimination and extreme poverty in Myanmar for decades. The estimated 1 million Rohingya in Myanmar are largely deprived of most basic rights from free movement to education or work, and also face restrictions on other social, civil and political rights.
Myanmar’s Buddhist rulers do not recognize the Rohingya as citizens, maintaining that they come from neighboring Bangladesh, while Bangladesh insists they are Burmese.
Aung San Suu Kyi, de facto leader of Myanmar and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, faces increasing international criticism over her handling of the conflict.
On Thursday, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu of South Africa, who is also a Nobel laureate, wrote to Ms. Suu Kyi, calling her to stop the violence.
“It is incongruous for a symbol of righteousness to lead such a country; it is adding to our pain,” he wrote in a letter published on his Twitter account.
“As we witness the unfolding horror we pray for you to be courageous and resilient again,” he said, asking her to “intervene in the escalating crisis and guide” her people towards the path of righteousness.