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UN: 270,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar in past 2 weeks

The exodus of the minority Rohingya was triggered by insurgent attacks on 25 August and an army counter-offensive.

FILE: A displaced Rohingya Muslim family at the Bawdupha Internally Displaced Persons camp located on the outskirts of Sittwe. Picture: AFP.

GENEVA - An estimated 270,000 Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar in the past two weeks and sought refuge in Bangladesh, where two existing refugee camps are “bursting at the seams”, the UN refugee agency UNHCR said on Friday.

The exodus of the minority Rohingya was triggered by insurgent attacks on 25 August and an army counter-offensive.

Myanmar says its forces are fighting a legitimate campaign against terrorists responsible for a string of attacks on the police and army since last October.

Officials blame Rohingya militants for killing non-Muslims and burning their homes.

“The two refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar in southeast Bangladesh - home to nearly 34,000 Rohingya refugees before this influx - are now bursting at the seams. The population has more than doubled in two weeks, totalling more than 70,000. There is an urgent need for more land and shelters,” UNHCR said in a briefing note for reporters in Geneva.

“The vast majority are women, including mothers with newborn babies, families with children. They arrive in poor condition, exhausted, hungry and desperate for shelter.”

WATCH: 300,000 Rohingya could flee Myanmar - UN

The United Nations was expecting a total refugee influx of 300,000, up from a previous estimate of 120,000, an official told Reuters on Wednesday.

The International Organization for Migration said the estimate of new arrivals had increased considerably partly because of an assessment on 6 September, when humanitarian workers visited more locations and found 75,000 newly arrived people in nine locations.

Chart showing the increasing number of Rohingya refugees fleeing from Myanmar's Rakhine state into neighbouring Bangladesh.

WATCH: Bangladesh hospital overflows with injured Rohingya

There were 130,000 people in the registered refugee camps and three makeshift settlements, 90,000 in host communities, and “nearly 50,000 in new spontaneous settlements which are expanding quickly with people still searching for space to make temporary shelters”, an IOM statement said.

“While most of Rohingya refugees arrive on foot, mostly walking through the jungle and mountains for several days, thousands are braving long and risky voyages across the rough seas of the Bay of Bengal,” UNHCR said.

At least 300 boats arrived in Cox’s Bazar on Wednesday, IOM said.

Meanwhile, on Thursday Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu broke his vow of silence to speak out on the plight of the Muslim minority in Myanmar.

Tutu wrote an open letter to Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, where he spoke of his profound sadness at the deadly situation playing out in the Rakhine state.

Open Letter From Desmond Tutu to Aung San Suu Kyi by Primedia Broadcasting on Scribd