Bangladesh acts on refugee crisis
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.”
Rohingya refugees reach out as aid packages are distributed by local relief organisations at the makeshift Balukhali camp in Cox’s Bazar