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Drone footage shows thousands more refugees fleeing to Bangladesh

Drone footage shows a mass of refugees in Bangladesh as boats ferry more across the Naf River, the natural border separating Bangladesh from Burma. (Image courtesy of UNHCR)

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has released aerial footage showing thousands of Rohingya Muslims after they crossed the Naf River into Bangladesh.

The video shot over the Palongkhali area on Monday shows refugees arriving by boat and walking through flooded fields.

They join more than 500,000 Rohingya Muslims who have fled Burma since 25 August, when coordinated attacks by militants of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) sparked a ferocious military response, with the fleeing people accusing security forces of arson, killings and rape.

Burma rejects UN accusations of ethnic cleansing and has labelled ARSA militants as terrorists, who have killed civilians and burnt villages.

The European Union said on Monday it would suspend invitations to the Burma Army’s senior generals “in the light of the disproportionate use of force carried out by the security forces.”

A statement issued after a meeting of EU foreign ministers also called for thorough investigation of “credible allegations of serious human rights violations and abuses.”

Not everyone made it to Bangladesh alive on Monday.

Several kilometres to the south of Palongkhali, a boat carrying scores of refugees sank at dawn, killing at least 12 and leaving 35 missing. There were 21 survivors, Bangladesh authorities said.

“So far 12 bodies, including six children and four women, have been recovered,” said police official Moinuddin Khan.

Bangladesh border guards told Reuters the boat sank because it was overloaded with refugees, who pay exorbitant fees to cross the Naf River, a natural border with Burma in the Cox’s Bazar region of Bangladesh.

Refugees who survived the perilous journey said they were driven out by hunger because food markets in Burma’s western Arakan State have been shut and aid deliveries restricted. They also reported attacks by the military and Arakanese Buddhist mobs.

The influx will worsen the unprecedented humanitarian emergency unfolding in Cox’s Bazar, where aid workers are struggling to provide refugees with food, clean water and shelter.

On Monday, the Red Cross opened a field hospital as big as two football fields, with 60 beds, three wards, an operating theatre, a delivery suite with maternity ward and a psycho-social support unit.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya had already been in Bangladesh after fleeing previous spasms of violence in Burma, where they have long been denied citizenship and faced curbs on their movements and access to basic services.

“We fled from our home because we had nothing to eat in my village,” said Jarhni Ahlong, a 28-year-old Rohingya man from the southern region of Buthidaung, who had been stranded on the Burma side of the Naf River for a week, waiting to cross.

From the thousands gathered there awaiting an opportunity to escape, about 400 paid roughly $50 each to flee on nine or 10 boats on Monday morning, he added.

“I think if we go to Bangladesh we can get food,” he said.