Aid groups express concern over proposed Rohingya camps in Myanmar

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An estimated 646,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh since late August, escaping what the United Nations has dubbed 'ethnic cleansing'.

More than a dozen international aid groups are vowing to boycott proposed camps for Rohingya returnees to Myanmar's troubled Rakhine state, demanding their original villages be rebuilt.

According to the latest official estimate, 646,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh since late August, escaping what the United Nations has dubbed "a textbook case of ethnic cleansing" at the hands of Myanmar's military.

The Myanmar and Bangladesh governments last week flagged they could begin repatriating people within two months.

A joint statement by 15 aid groups including Save The Children, CARE, Oxfam and World Vision called for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to have a leading role in the process and stipulated returns must be voluntary.

"There should be no form of closed camps or camp-like settlements," the statement said.

"International non-government organisations will not operate in such camps if they are created."

Following an outbreak of violence five years ago, more than 100,000 Rohingya in central Rakhine state have been stuck in limbo in squalid camps. Aid groups are hoping to prevent a repeat of that situation.

The UN refugee arm says the flow of Rohingya people to Bangladesh is continuing.

"It is critical that the returns are not rushed or premature," spokesperson Adrian Edwards said.

The World Health Organisation warns diphtheria is spreading at the camps near Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh.

More than 110 people have contracted the disease, with six deaths. Most of those affected are children.

Immunisation targeting children up to the age of 6 have begun but older age groups are ineligible because of a shortage of vaccines.

Meanwhile, the International Crisis Group warns the Rohingya crisis could be entering a dangerous new phase.

In a report released late last week, the group warned Rohingya militants who have fled to Bangladesh camps could stage cross-border attacks.

The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army targeted police and army posts in Rakhine state in August, which led to a massive Myanmar military crackdown.

The group has not launched any new attacks since October but "undoubtedly will strive to do so".

"It appears determined to regroup and remain relevant," the report said.

Source AAP - SBS

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