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UNICEF says 25% of Rohingya refugee kids acutely malnourished

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Rohingya Muslim refugee children queue for aid supplies at the Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, December 4, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

UNICEF says a quarter of the Rohingya Muslim children under the age of five who crossed into Bangladesh fleeing violence in Myanmar suffer from potentially life-threatening acute malnutrition.

The UN Children's Fund said on Friday that it conducted three health and nutrition surveys between October 22 and November 27, which showed that up to 25 percent of the young Rohingya children refugees had acute malnutrition, among other diseases.

"Nearly half the children surveyed have anemia, up to 40 percent have diarrhoea, and up to 60 percent have acute respiratory infections," UNICEF spokesman Christophe Boulierac told journalists in Geneva.

More than 655,000 Rohingya Muslims have so far fled the predominantly-Buddhist Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh since August 25, when the crackdown on the Rohingya intensified in Rakhine state. Nearly half of them are children.

Many of those who have fled have recounted harrowing accounts of rape, murder, and arson at the hands of Myanmar’s forces and Buddhist mobs, in what has been branded “an ethnic cleansing campaign” against the Muslim minority group.

In this photograph taken on November 12, 2017, a woman holds the hand of a child as they stand near tents at a makeshift camp in Rakhine state in Myanmar, while waiting to find a way to cross over into Bangladesh. (Photo by AFP)

Bangladesh's UNICEF head Edouard Beigbeder said in a statement that "our worst fears have been confirmed."

"Refugee children who have already endured unimaginable suffering in fleeing their homes are now facing a public health crisis," he added.

On November 3, the UN agency warned that life-threatening malnutrition had spread perilously among the Rohingya child refugees, saying preliminary data showed that a full 7.5 percent of the children crammed into one of the camps in Bangladeshi district of Cox's Bazar faced the risk of dying from severe acute malnutrition.

Back then, Boulierac estimated that the overall rate of severe acute malnutrition could be higher as the agency was planning to conduct two additional assessments in other sites in Cox's Bazar.

New surveys at the Kutupalong and Nayapara refugee camps, as well as other makeshift settlements, that included more than 1,700 children underlined the worsening situation.

"Less than 16 percent of children are consuming a minimal acceptable diet," UNICEF said.

The UN human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, on December 18 described attacks by Myanmar's military against the Rohingya Muslims as “well thought out and planned,” causing a mass exodus, adding he did not rule out the possibility that Myanmar’s leader and military face genocide charges in court in the future.

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