DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Bangladesh is planning to build separate shelters for 6,000 Rohingya Muslim children who entered the country without parents to escape violence in neighboring Myanmar, a government official said Tuesday.
Children make up about 60 percent of the estimated 480,000 Rohingya Muslims who have poured into Bangladesh over the last four weeks to flee persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.
Junior minister Nuruzzaman Ahmed said the social welfare ministry has asked local authorities for 200 acres (80 hectares) of land to build facilities for the children without parents, and about 1,580 such children have already been registered.
The U.N. children's agency UNICEF has identified about 1,800 children who fled Myanmar without parents after violence broke out on Aug. 25, but Ahmed said the total number is about 6,000.
Zillar Rahman, a senior official at the ministry, told reporters in Dhaka that the government wants to protect those children by keeping them away from adults.
"Ages between 13 and 18 are vulnerable. If they live with the adults there is a possibility of getting harmed or involved in criminal activities. So the government is thinking of separating such children who have come here without their parents," Rahman said.
He said if the land is available, children will be divided into two groups — those below age seven and those between eight and 18.
The U.S. ambassador to Myanmar, Scot Marciel, is planning to visit Rakhine state, where the violence has occurred, in the next two days and will go to the Bangladesh border, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan told a congressional hearing in Washington on Tuesday.
Sullivan said the situation has ramifications beyond the region and requires an international response.
"It's not a local problem, it's a global problem and the scale is tragic," he said.
U.S. officials have been reticent in finding fault with Myanmar civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi's handling of the crisis, but have been increasingly critical of the conduct of the military, which controls security operations in the strife-hit region.
The Trump administration announced last week it will provide nearly $32 million in humanitarian aid to help refugees displaced from Rakhine.
Plans for the trip come as the U.N. refugee agency has called for a redoubling of the international humanitarian response in Bangladesh.
"Despite every effort by those on the ground, the massive influx of people seeking safety has been outpacing capacities to respond, and the situation for these refugees has still not stabilized," Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, said Tuesday in Geneva. "Many of those who have arrived recently are deeply traumatized. Despite having found refuge in Bangladesh, they are still exposed to enormous hardship."
Edwards said that during a visit to Bangladesh this past weekend, Grandi said that while long-term issues needed to be considered, "for now, the immediate focus has to remain on fast, efficient and substantial increase of support to those who are so desperately in need."
In a separate statement issued in Geneva, seven experts empowered by the United Nations to look into human rights issues called on Myanmar's government to halt violence against its minority Rohingya Muslim community and stop persecution and rights violations that have been described as an example of ethnic cleansing.
"U.N. member states need to go beyond statements and start taking concrete action to stop the military and security forces from accomplishing their so-called 'unfinished business' of getting rid of the Rohingya minority from Rakhine state," said the seven, led by Yanghee Lee, the special envoy on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.
They also called on Myanmar leader Suu Kyi to look more closely into the situation and personally meet with affected Rohingya.
"No one chooses, especially not in the hundreds of thousands, to leave their homes and ancestral land, no matter how poor the conditions, to flee to a strange land to live under plastic sheets and in dire circumstances except in life-threatening situations. Despite violence allegedly perpetrated by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), the whole Rohingya population should not have to pay the price," they said in the statement. ARSA is a Rohingya insurgent group whose attacks on police posts on Aug. 25 led to massive retaliation by Myanmar's army.
The U.N. Security Council was briefed on the situation in Myanmar behind closed doors on Tuesday and will hold an open meeting Thursday with a briefing by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who has called the plight of the Rohingyas ethnic cleansing and has urged council action.
France's U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre, whose country takes over the council presidency in October, told reporters Tuesday that his country has at least three key goals: end all military operations which is "the number one priority," ensure humanitarian access and aid to the Rohingya population, and open "a true political dialogue with a true political solution."
Delattre said it's important that the U.N.'s most powerful body "express itself in a strong and united way" on the situation.
He said former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan, who led a commission that called for economic development and social justice to counter deadly violence between Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine, will address an informal Security Council meeting in early October.
Myanmar's U.N. Ambassador Hau Do Suan insisted Monday that there is no "ethnic cleansing" or genocide taking place against Muslims and objected "in the strongest terms" to countries that used those words. He said the Annan commission has provided the government with "a clear roadmap" ahead.
Associated Press writers Matthew Lee in Washington, D.C. and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations, contributed to this report.