Over $200M pledged in new funds for Rohingya

A Rohingya Muslim woman who crossed over from Myanmar into Bangladesh waits for her turn to collect food aid Monday at the Kutupalong refugee camp.
Dar Yasin ~ Associated Press

GENEVA -- Governments and international donors pledged $234 million Monday to help over 600,000 Rohingya people who have fled violence in Myanmar into neighboring Bangladesh over the last two months.

The head of the U.N.'s aid coordination agency said a one-day conference co-hosted by the European Union and Kuwait's government had taken strides in meeting a recent U.N. target for $434 million in aid for Rohingya refugees through February. At the start of the conference, $116 million had been committed already.

Mark Lowcock, head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said new pledges Monday brought the total to $340 million.

However, OCHA spokeswoman Vanessa Huguenin clarified later while all that money was destined for the Rohingya crisis response, not all was going to U.N. programs: Some would help the Red Cross response or bilateral programs outside the United Nations, she said in an e-mail.

Lowcock said more contributions were expected, though he added he wasn't able to specify whether those would come in Monday or at a later date.

Speaking to conference attendees as the session opened, Lowcock lamented a "humanitarian and human-rights nightmare" faced by Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. He said the main focus of the event was "mobilizing resources to save lives and protect people."

The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, said earlier Monday an estimated 603,000 people have fled into Bangladesh since security forces in neighboring Myanmar launched a violent crackdown against them Aug. 25 in the wake of militant attacks.

The influx comes on top of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who had fled into Bangladesh previously.

Lowcock also didn't rule out U.N. officials could launch a new appeal to "generous" donors again in the future, depending on how circumstances develop.

Standing beside Lowcock, Director-General William Swing of the International Organization for Migration -- who was fresh off a trip to the region -- said based on current trends, "the numbers are expected to exceed a million fairly shortly."

Over half of those who have fled in the latest wave are children.

The scorched-earth campaign by Myanmar's security forces has involved killings, rape and the burning of entire villages.

Myanmar's government said it was responding to attacks by Muslim insurgents, but the United Nations and others have said the response was disproportionate.

The U.N. human rights chief, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, has decried a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing."