At least 65,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled persecution and violence in Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh since the army launched a crackdown in the northwestern Rakhine State early October, the United Nations says.
The UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in its weekly report on Monday that 22,000 Rohingya had fled Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh over the past week.
"Over the past week, 22,000 new arrivals were reported to have crossed the border from Rakhine state," the UN relief agency said, adding, "As of 5 January, an estimated 65,000 people are residing in registered camps, makeshift settlements and host communities" in Cox's Bazar in southern Bangladesh.
The latest figure marks a sharp escalation in the numbers fleeing a military campaign.
Thousands of Rohingya Muslims are living in Bangladesh, with the vast majority of them having taken refuge in makeshift settlements, official refugee camps and villages in Bangladesh's resort district of Cox's Bazar.
Many of those interviewed by journalists have told horrific stories of gang-rape, torture and murder at the hands of Myanmar's government forces.
Meanwhile, a United Nations (UN) special envoy has arrived in Myanmar to begin an investigation into the brutal and deadly military crackdown on Rohingya Muslims in the country.
Yanghee Lee, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, arrived in the country late on Sunday and will visit Rakhine State, where the Rohingya have been subjected to executions, rape, and arson attacks since October.
The developments come as Myanmar's military launched a fresh wave of crackdown on Muslims after a deadly attack on the country’s border guards on October 9 left nine policemen dead. The government blamed the Rohingya for the assault.
There have been numerous accounts by eyewitnesses of summary executions, rapes and arson attacks against Muslims since the crackdown began. The military has blocked access to Rakhine and banned journalists and aid workers from entering the zone.
The United Nations has warned that ongoing human rights violations against the Rohingya in Rakhine could be tantamount to “crimes against humanity.”
Rakhine has been the scene of communal violence at the hands of Buddhist extremists since 2012. Hundreds of people have been killed and tens of thousands have been forced from their homes to live in squalid camps in dire conditions in Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
The government denies full citizenship to the 1.1 million-strong Rohingya population, branding them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. This as the Rohingya are believed to be a community of ancient lineage in Myanmar.
According to the UN, the Rohingya are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.