Bangladesh acts on refugee cri­sis

The Australian - - WORLD - AMANDA HODGE SOUTH­EAST ASIA CORRESPONDENT

Bangladesh has be­gun re­strict­ing the movement of al­most 400,000 Ro­hingya refugees who have crossed into Cox’s Bazar flee­ing vi­o­lence in Myan­mar since late Au­gust, or­der­ing all new ar­rivals to re­main in their camps and to sub­mit to bio­met­ric reg­is­tra­tion.

The gov­ern­ment rolled out a mas­sive reg­is­tra­tion process last week in which it will record the de­tails and fin­ger­prints of all adult refugees to try to pre­vent the hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis from broad­en­ing into a se­cu­rity is­sue.

The crack­down comes as Prime Min­is­ter Sheikh Hasina flew to New York for the UN Gen­eral Assem­bly to ask for ad­di­tional aid and for more in­ter­na­tional pres­sure to be put on Myan­mar to end the vi­o­lence against its mi­nor­ity Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion.

Bud­dhist-ma­jor­ity Myan­mar has faced con­dem­na­tion for the lat­est crack­down on its Ro­hingya Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion, which se­nior UN of­fi­cials have de­scribed as “text­book eth­nic cleans­ing”.

But Myan­mar army chief Min Aung Hlaing was un­re­pen­tant at the week­end, is­su­ing a state­ment on his Face­book page in which he de­scribed the Ben­gali (the word it uses for Ro­hingya) is­sue as a “na­tional cause”.

“They have de­manded recog­ni­tion as Ro­hingya, which has never been an eth­nic group in Myan­mar,” he wrote.

The lat­est mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion fol­lows deadly Au­gust 25 at­tacks on 30 po­lice and army posts by mil­i­tants from the Arakan Ro­hingya Sal­va­tion Army.

The new group is said to have trained in the Chit­tagong hill tracts near Cox’s Bazar be­fore the lat­est at­tack.

An at­tack last Oc­to­ber on Rakhine se­cu­rity forces sparked sim­i­larly bru­tal pun­ish­ment against Ro­hingya civil­ians.

Bangladeshi po­lice pro­hib­ited Ro­hingyas from trav­el­ling out­side of their al­lo­cated ar­eas at the week­end, and urged trans­port op­er­a­tors not to ferry refugees to other parts of the coun­try.

“We al­ready have an over­crowded pop­u­la­tion so se­cu­rity is a big is­sue,” the reg­is­tra­tion project’s deputy di­rec­tor, Lieu­tenan­tColonel Mo­ham­mad Faisal Hasan Khan, said from the Cox’s Bazar Ku­tu­pa­long camp, where the first stage of the reg­is­tra­tion pro­gram was rolled out on Thurs­day.

“Once they’re moved from there it’s very dif­fi­cult to iden­tify them and sep­a­rate them from the com­mon mass be­cause they look very sim­i­lar to us and use a di­alect which is com­mon to this area.”

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, and the In­ter­na­tional Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Mi­gra­tion are as­sist­ing in the project, which Lieu­tenant-Colonel Faisal said would al­low the gov­ern­ment to track and con­trol the move­ments of refugees and help aid groups dis­trib­ute re­lief more ef­fec­tively.

Late last week, In­dia tight­ened se­cu­rity along its bor­der with Myan­mar in its north­east­ern states to pre­vent Ro­hingya over­flow into its ter­ri­tory.

Bangladesh is thought to be host­ing more than 800,000 Ro­hingya, most of them in squalid con­di­tions in un­reg­is­tered camps or in makeshift tent vil­lages on road­sides, hill slopes and forests around Cox’s Bazar, just across the Naf River that sep­a­rates the two coun­tries.

Al­though Dhaka opened its east­ern bor­ders to the des­per­ate thou­sands flee­ing the lat­est “clear­ance oper­a­tions” by Myan­mar mil­i­tary and eth­nic Bud­dhist mobs in north­ern Rakhine State out of hu­man­i­tar­ian con­cern, it has made clear it can­not host them in­def­i­nitely and that Myan­mar must even­tu­ally ac­cept their re­turn.

Like In­dia, Bangladesh fears the Ro­hingya cri­sis could rally home­grown ex­trem­ists.

“We have taken ap­pro­pri­ate sur­veil­lance mea­sures and are on alert against the move by the in­ac­tive mil­i­tants to use it for re­cruit­ment pur­poses,” Bangladesh chief of Counter Ter­ror­ism and Transna­tional Crime unit Monirul Is­lam said of the vi­o­lence last week.

Fringe Is­lamist lead­ers have is­sued a call to arms to Ro­hingya refugees.

Al-Qa’ida has urged “all mu­jahid brothers in Bangladesh, In­dia, Pak­istan and The Philip­pines to set out for Burma (Myan­mar) and help their Mus­lim brothers and to make the nec­es­sary prepa­ra­tions — train­ing and the like — to re­sist this op­pres­sion against their Mus­lim brothers and to se­cure their rights, which will only be re­turned to them by use of force.”

REUTERS

Ro­hingya refugees reach out as aid pack­ages are distributed by lo­cal re­lief or­gan­i­sa­tions at the makeshift Balukhali camp in Cox’s Bazar

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