The mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims fleeing Burma in just under three weeks is now triple the number of refugees who have tried to enter Europe across the Mediterranean so far this year, leaving aid agencies overwhelmed.

An estimated 370,000 have escaped from Burma's northern Rakhine state to overcrowded Bangladeshi refugee camps since August 25, compared with 128,012 people seeking to cross the Mediterranean since January.

Burma's Government admitted that 176 out of 471 ethnic Rohingya villages are now empty.

The Government said that its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, will skip next week's UN General Assembly meetings, and give a domestic speech to address the crisis.


Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, has called on Burmese authorities to end the violence and acknowledged the situation is best described as ethnic cleansing.

Rohingyas have said their homes were set on fire and people shot, slashed or burned to death. "This is the fastest growing refugee crisis in the past five years, with serious human rights concerns," a UNHCR spokesman said.

Chris Lom, a UN aid worker in Cox's Bazar, on the front line of the humanitarian disaster, said people were "very vulnerable, traumatised," while relief agencies struggled.

"UN agencies and the government were expecting the possibility that as many as 100,000 more people could come across when there were already 600,000 Rohingyas in Bangladesh," he told UN News.

"But I don't think anyone expected a mass exodus like this, unprecedented in terms of value and speed," he said.

Yesterday, one Red Cross mobile medical team at the makeshift Balukhali camp managed to treat 100 people suffering from diarrhoea, old bullet wounds and burns before supplies ran out.

Isolated rural locations and throngs of displaced people present major obstacles to aid supply. Increasingly desperate refugees, weak from hunger, are clambering onto the few trucks that do get through, trying to claim whatever supplies they can, causing fights to break out.

Aid that arrived by air earlier this week would not cover a tenth of refugee needs, officials have said, estimating the relief effort would cost at least US$77 million.