BANGLADESH SEEKS HELP HOUSING REFUGEES
THOUSANDS of Rohingya Muslim refugees who fled violence in Myanmar in search of refuge could be forced to make their new homes on a barren Bangladeshi island that floods every year.
The Bangladesh government has appealed for international support to move the Rohingya to the island as the country confronts a growing crisis over where to house an influx that has mounted following a military crackdown in Buddhist-dominated Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
More than 300,000 Rohingya have poured into Bangladesh since the latest flare-up in violence on August 25, adding to around 300,000 refugees already living in overflowing UN-run camps in Cox’s Bazar district, close to the border with Myanmar.
The surge has overwhelmed the Bangladesh authorities, who are scrambling to find land to build more camps, including on the inhospitable and uninhabited Thengar Char island – recently renamed Bhashan Char – despite reluctance on the part of Rohingya leaders and UN officials.
Bhashan Char, located in the estuary of the Meghna river, is a one-hour boat ride from Sandwip, the nearest inhabited island, and two hours from Hatiya, one of Bangladesh’s largest islands.
The authorities first proposed settling Rohingya refugees there in 2015, as the camps in Cox’s Bazar became overstretched with new arrivals.
But the plan was apparently shelved last year amid reports that the silt island, which only emerged from the sea in 2006, was uninhabitable due to regular tidal flooding.
The government is trying to find more space for the Rohingya, including establishing a new 2,000 acre camp near Cox’s Bazar, close to the Myanmar border, which will house around 250,000 Rohingya.
Prime minister Sheikh Hasina was to visit the construction site on Tuesday (12), as Eastern Eye went to press.
There were an estimated 1.1 million Rohingya, who are refused citizenship by Myanmar, living in Rakhine state.
Around a third of that number have fled since October when a new Rohingya militant group launched its first raids, sparking a crackdown by Myanmar’s army.
Refugees fleeing the unrest have brought stories of entire villages burned to the ground by Buddhist mobs and Myanmar troops.
Rights groups say the sheer volume of testimony by refugees alleging rape, murder and arson points to a brutal crackdown, in keeping with a systematic campaign to force the Rohingya out of the country.
It is not possible to verify their accounts as access to Rakhine is tightly controlled.
The situation in that country is a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”, the United Nations rights chief said on Monday (11).
Hours after the UN warning, the Security Council announced it would meet on Wednesday (13) to discuss the violence.
Myanmar’s de facto civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, has faced
strong international criticism over an army crackdown on the Muslim minority, which began when Rohingya militants ambushed security forces in Rakhine State on August 25.
Myanmar’s government has rejected allegations of atrocities and placed the blame for the violence squarely on the Rohingya militants.
Bangladesh’s foreign minister said last Sunday (10) that genocide was being waged in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, as he appealed for help.
“The international community is saying it is a genocide. We also say it is a genocide,” AH Mahmood Ali told reporters in Dhaka.
Ali met Western and Arab diplomats and the heads of UN agencies based in Bangladesh to seek support for a political solution and humanitarian aid for the Rohingya. (AFP)