UN refugee chief appeals for funds for Rohingya, sanctuary for Myanmar refugees

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FILE PHOTO: Rohingya refugees sit on wooden benches of a navy vessel on their way to the Bhasan Char island in Noakhali district

(Reuters) - The head of the U.N. refugee agency said on Monday more international support was needed for hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, a day ahead of a donor conference aiming to raise $1 billion to fund the response.

Close to a million Rohingya have been living in crowded camps in southern Bangladesh that comprise the world’s largest refugee settlement since fleeing a military crackdown in Myanmar's Rakhine state nearly four years ago.

Speaking to Reuters, Filippo Grandi said the fate of the Rohingya was at risk of being forgotten in the wake of a coup by the army in Myanmar that has thrown the country into further turmoil and sent more people fleeing to the borders.

“The development in Myanmar risks overshadowing the fact that this is a crisis that pre-existed this development and will continue to be a crisis that needs to be addressed both in Bangladesh and in Myanmar,” Grandi said.

UNHCR will launch an appeal on Tuesday for US$943 million to support humanitarian work in both the Rohingya camps and local Bangladeshi communities.

Many more people have been fleeing Myanmar since Feb. 1, when the military overthrew the civilian government and began a brutal crackdown on protesters that has killed more than 800, according to the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners.

Many are crossing to India and Thailand from border areas where ethnic armed groups supporting protesters have come under siege from the military. Thousands of people who fled to Thailand following airstrikes in the eastern Karen state were asked to return. Thai authorities said they left voluntarily.

"We would have preferred that their asylum or their refuge lasted for longer, so mine is a very strong appeal... strong appeal to keep borders open for those who may need sanctuary at this very, very difficult time in Myanmar,” he said.

(Editing by Nick Macfie)