The UN Refugee Agency is reporting a surge in the number of Rohingya Muslims who have crossed into Bangladesh from Myanmar, with an estimated 270,000 arriving in the last two weeks.
The new number confirmed Friday by Vivian Tan, spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, marks a major increase from the 164,000 estimated Thursday to have arrived since Aug. 25.
Tan said the number jumped because the UNHCR found new pockets of refugees in border areas.
“This does not necessarily reflect fresh arrivals within the past 24 hours but that we have identified more people in different areas that we were not aware of before,” she said.
“The numbers are so alarming — it really means that we have to step up our response and that the situation in Myanmar has to be addressed urgently.”
The exodus began after Rohingya insurgents attacked police posts, prompting the military to respond with “clearance operations” to root out any fighters hiding in villages of Rakhine state.
Journalists have reported seeing village homes burning as recently as Thursday in the region of Buddhist-majority Myanmar.
Yet refugees instead described large-scale violence being carried out by the country’s military and Buddhist mobs – setting fire to their homes, spraying bullets indiscriminately, stabbing civilians and ordering them to abandon their homes or be killed.
Some even reported people were being burned alive.
Burning Rohingya homes can make it less likely that they will return.
Myanmar refuses to recognise Rohingya Muslims as Burmese, instead arguing that they migrated illegally from Bangladesh, though many Rohingya families have lived in the country for generations.
In 2012, tens of thousands of Rohingya were driven from their homes in another wave of violence, many of who are now confined to camps, while their land is now either vacant or occupied by Buddhist squatters.
Copies of the Qur’an with pages torn out and thrown outside were also reported to have been seen.
However, Myanmar’s (formerly known as Burma) government claims the persecuted minority are destroying their own homes and setting fire to them.
There has been criticism of the country’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi – known as “The Lady” who effectively runs the country after her party won a landslide in the first free vote in a generation two years ago.
However, despite winning the Nobel Peace Prize for years of peaceful resistance against military dictatorship she has failed to condemn the violence against Muslims in Myanmar, instead branding it a misinformation campaign.