More than 20,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh in recent weeks, humanitarian officials said yesterday, following a bloody crackdown by the army in Myanmar.
Sanjukta Sahany, head of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) office in Cox's Bazar bordering Rakhine, said around 21,000 members of the ethnic minority had crossed over in the past two months.
The vast majority of those who arrived took refuge in makeshift settlements, official refugee camps and villages, said Sahany.
"An estimated 21,000 Rohingya have arrived in Cox's Bazar district between October 9 and December 2," she told AFP by phone.
"It is based on the figures collected by UN agencies and international NGOs".
The Dhaka office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in a statement also said it "estimate(d) that there could be 21,000 new arrivals in recent weeks".
Those interviewed by AFP inside Bangladesh told horrifying stories of gang-rape, torture and murder at the hands of Myanmar's security forces.
Analysis of satellite images by Human Rights Watch found hundreds of buildings in Rohingya villages have been razed.
Myanmar has denied allegations of abuse but has banned foreign journalists and independent investigators from accessing the area.
Myanmar's Nobel peace laureate and de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has faced a growing international backlash for what a UN official has said amounts to a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya, a Muslim group loathed by many of Myanmar's Buddhist majority.
Last week she vowed to work for "peace and national reconciliation", saying her country faced many challenges, but did not mention the violence in Rakhine state.
But Kofi Annan, a former UN chief appointed by Suu Kyi as head of a commission on Rakhine, hoped Myanmar would allow journalists to visit the state to "help eliminate some of the rumours we are hearing".
"The issue of genocide and ethnic cleansing -- this is a very serious charge. It is a charge that requires legal review and a judicial determination," Annan told reporters in Yangon.
"It is not a charge that should be thrown around loosely."
More than 230,000 Rohingya are already living in Bangladesh, most of them illegally, although around 32,000 are formally registered as refugees.
Violence in Rakhine has surged in the last month after security forces poured into the area following a series of attacks on police posts blamed on local militants.
MORE ROHINGYAS IN UKHIA, TEKNAF
The Daily Star correspondent in Cox's Bazar reports: A total of 2,300 Rohingya families have taken shelter at the Rohingya slum in Kutupalong of Ukhia upazila since November 10, said Abu Bakar Siddique, president of the slum managing committee.
In Teknaf, 1,200 Rohingya families have taken shelter at Leda Rohingya slum in the last 26 days, said Amir Hossain, general secretary of the slum managing committee.
He said the committee collected new families' information and gave the intelligence agencies the information.