An unprecedented surge of 2,70,000 Rohingya has sought refuge in Bangladesh over the past two weeks, the UN refugee agency said on Friday, as it announced a dramatic jump in the total as new pockets of people fleeing violence in Myanmar are found.
A rights group said satellite images showed about 450 buildings had been burned down in a Myanmar border town largely inhabited by Rohingya, as part of what the refugees say is a concerted effort to expel members of the Muslim minority.
Vivian Tan, a spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said the estimated number of Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh since violence erupted on August 25 had risen from 1,64,000 on Thursday because aid workers had found big groups of uncounted people 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," she said, adding that the number was an estimate and there could be some double-counting.
"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 wave of refugees, many sick or wounded, has strained the resources of aid agencies and communities which are already helping hundreds of thousands displaced by previous waves of violence in Myanmar. Many have no shelter, and aid agencies are racing to provide clean water, sanitation and food.
Two days ago, UNHCR had said the worst-case scenario was 300,000 refugees.
"We need to prepare for many more to come, I am afraid," said Shinni Kubo, the Bangladesh country manager for the agency.
"We need huge financial resources. This is unprecedented. This is dramatic. It will continue for weeks and weeks."
While most refugees are coming on foot many are also braving the sea. At least 300 boats carrying Rohingya arrived in the Bangladesh border district of Cox's Bazar on Wednesday, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said.
The latest flight of Rohingya from their homes in Myanmar began two weeks ago after Rohingya insurgents attacked security force posts in Rakhine State. That triggered an army counter-offensive in which at least 400 people were killed.
Buddhist-majority Myanmar says its security forces are fighting a legitimate campaign against "terrorists" it blames for the attacks on the security forces and for burning homes and civilian deaths.
It says about 30,000 non-Muslims have been displaced by the violence.
The 1.1m Rohingya living in Myanmar have long complained of persecution. They are denied citizenship and regarded as illegal migrants from Bangladesh.