More than 11,000 people crossed the border into Bangladesh on Monday, the United Nations refugee agency said, and thousands more are waiting to cross.
More than 515,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since Aug. 25, when Myanmar’s army responded to attacks by militants in the western state of Rakhine by burning whole villages in a campaign that the United Nations has called ethnic cleansing.
The number of people crossing the border had slowed to around 2,000 a day in the past week. But Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the refugee agency, told journalists in Geneva on Tuesday, "We’re back in a situation of full alert as far as influxes are concerned.”
"It’s still a situation that has potential to worsen,” he added.
The surge in arrivals coincided with reports from local residents of renewed gunfire in northern Rakhine State, the refugee agency said, but that area of Myanmar is off limits to humanitarian agencies and journalists, and aid workers did not say what had caused the latest influx.
Desperate to escape Myanmar, many refugees have crowded onto rickety fishing vessels to cross the Naf River into Bangladesh. At least 14 people, most of them children, died when a boat sank off the coast of Bangladesh on Sunday, Mr. Edwards said.
Many of the latest arrivals to Bangladesh had walked for 12 to 14 days to reach the border, Mr. Edwards said, and included people suffering from illness, injuries and trauma resulting from extreme violence.
International relief agencies are scrambling to meet the needs for shelter, water and medical care for refugees in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, raising fears of a major disease outbreak.
On Tuesday, United Nations agencies and the Bangladeshi health authorities began a campaign to vaccinate refugees against cholera — the second-largest operation of its kind, surpassed only by the emergency vaccination program carried out in Haiti last year, the New York Times reported.
The World Health Organization said that more than 10,000 cases of diarrhea had been reported in refugee camps and settlements close to the Bangladeshi border with Myanmar, and warned of the potential for a cholera epidemic.
The agency’s unit coordinating relief for the refugees said that around 14,500 children had been treated for severe malnutrition, which leaves them particularly vulnerable to cholera, although an agency spokesman, Christian Lindmeier, confirmed that no cases of cholera had been confirmed.
The program aims to provide oral vaccines to 650,000 people this month, plus a second dose to a quarter of a million children aged 1 to 5 starting at the end of October.
For the longer term, Bangladesh announced last week that it was setting aside land to bring refugees now scattered in numerous small settlements into one location. The resulting site, if completed, would be one of the world’s largest refugee camps, accommodating around 800,000 Rohingya Muslims.