World News

48000 babies expected to be born in Rohingya refugee camps this year

48000 babies expected to be born in Rohingya refugee camps this year

An estimated 48,000 babies are expected to be born in squalid refugee camps in Bangladesh where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims fled violence from Buddhist-majority Myanmar.

Health workers in the camps are scrambling to give the babies of 2018 a fighting chance at survival, but there are fears many will die before they reach five years of age.

Four months have passed since attacks by Rohingya militants on Myanmar authorities prompted a brutal backlash by the government, killing, raping and dislocating over half a million Rohingya Muslims. At least 5% of the refugees are pregnant women.

The global charity, Save the Children, revealed the new figures on Friday, showing that the Rohingya families, who rely on food rations in overcrowded flimsy tents, are expected to give birth to these babies in 2018.

"The home setting is really very, very sick", she said.

"The camps have poor sanitation and are a breeding ground for diseases like diphtheria, measles and cholera, to which newborn babies are particularly vulnerable", said Rachael Cummings, the agency's health adviser in Cox's Bazar, the nearest city to the camps. She stated that this was "no place" for children to be born and to grow up.

A teenage Rohingya mother with her newborn infant. Credit Umer Aiman Khan  IPS
A teenage Rohingya mother with her newborn infant. Credit Umer Aiman Khan IPS

Cummings termed the possible disadvantages for the babies as "truly heartbreaking", saying that they would battle the odds stacked against them.

In the conservative Muslim Rohingya community, women favour privacy in childbirth. Grandmothers and older women normally act as midwifes but there are few support networks in the camp.

There are health facilities at the sprawling camps, but getting to one can require a treacherous journey.

"It's quite hilly and now the rains are coming it can be quite muddy".

More than 600,000 Rohingya, a minority group from Rakhine state in western Myanmar, have fled what the United Nations says is a campaign of ethnic cleansing by the Myanmar military and Buddhist mobs since late August a year ago. Earlier in the week officials from Myanmar declared that two reception centres for processing refugees were almost completed.

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