Bangladesh to build camp for 400,000 Rohingya refugees

The UN has described Myanmar’s actions as a ‘textbook example of ethnic cleansing’

Rohingya refugees shelter from the rain in a camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Photograph:  Reuters/Cathal McNaughton

Rohingya refugees shelter from the rain in a camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Photograph: Reuters/Cathal McNaughton

 

Bangladesh, facing an unprecedented influx of ethnic Rohingya, plans to build a vast camp to house about 400,000 refugees who have poured into the country during the past three weeks. The new settlements will be built within the next 10 days on 2,000 acres in the Cox’s Bazar district near Bangladesh’s border with Myanmar, officials have said. Officials plan to construct 14,000 shelters, each with the capacity to hold six families, with the help of international aid organisations and the Bangladesh military.

Poor and overpopulated, Bangladesh is no haven for the Rohingya, a long-persecuted Muslim minority from Buddhist-majority Myanmar. Camps were already overflowing with at least 400,000 Rohingya before the current exodus was provoked by Rohingya militants’ attacking Myanmar police posts and an army base on August 25th.

The Myanmar military then began a campaign of village torchings, extrajudicial killings and gang rape, according to survivors and international rights groups. Witnesses and rights organisations have also accused the military of using helicopters to unleash a scorched-earth campaign, burning Rohingya villages.

The United Nations described the actions against the Rohingya as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. With a record number of Rohingya fleeing over the border into Bangladesh, arrivals have been forced to line the streets of local villages, begging for food and water, and the current settlements have reached capacity. The government said restrictions would be placed on any inhabitants of the planned settlement. Rohingya will also be barred from travelling by vehicle in Bangladesh, and only those registered as refugees will qualify for official assistance.

“The Rohingya refugees won’t be allowed to go outside the camp,” Asaduzzaman Khan, the Bangladeshi minister of home affairs, said last Sunday. Bangladesh stopped designating new refugees in the early 1990s, forcing hundreds of thousands to fend for themselves by cobbling together bits of tarpaulin and bamboo to build makeshift homes. This year, the government even debated a plan to confine all Rohingya refugees on a flood-prone uninhabited island.

Hunger and disease

Aid groups have expressed worry about hunger and diseases such as cholera spreading through the squalid settlements in Bangladesh. The lack of an adequate sewage system is also compounding fears about public hygiene. The Bangladesh Department of Public Health Engineering said it would construct 500 temporary latrines, while the UN high commissioner for refugees has plans for 8,000 more.

On September 12th, prime minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh visited a Rohingya camp in Kutupalong, where she hugged refugees and lamented the deaths of women and children. “We want peace; we want good relations with our neighbouring countries,” she said. “But we can’t tolerate and accept any injustice.” Hasina is scheduled to attend the UN general assembly in New York on Thursday, where she is expected to ask for help from the international community to tackle the situation. Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of Myanmar’s civilian administration, announced she would skip the annual meeting. Ms Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has been criticised for defending the Myanmar military’s crackdown and for staying silent about the plight of the Rohingya.

Bangladesh airspace

Hasina has urged Myanmar to take back the Rohingya who have fled to Bangladesh, much as Myanmar did during some earlier waves of displacement. Much smaller populations of Hindus, Buddhists and animists living in Rakhine state in western Myanmar have also been displaced by the violence.

On Friday, the Bangladesh government lodged a formal complaint with Myanmar about alleged violations of Bangladesh airspace by Myanmar military aircraft and drones. Myanmar dismissed a similar airspace protest this month. The Bangladesh government has also been holding two Myanmar photographers covering the Rohingya crisis for a German magazine. The two, Minzayar Oo and Hkun Lat, are accused of entering the country under false pretences, on tourist visas. The Bangladeshi authorities have suggested that the two may be spies, a charge denied by their lawyers and families.

– The New York Times News Service