A DES­PER­ATE PORT IN A DEADLY STORM

Bangladesh to build tightly re­stricted camp for Ro­hingya

Toronto Star - - FRONT PAGE - HAN­NAH BEECH

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 Burma, of­fi­cials have said. Of­fi­cials plan to con­struct14,000 shel­ters, each with the ca­pac­ity to hold six fam­i­lies, with the help of in­ter­na­tional aid or­ga­ni­za­tions and the Bangladesh mil­i­tary.

Re­stric­tions will be placed on any in­hab­i­tants of the planned set­tle­ment, the govern­ment said.

Ro­hingya will not be per­mit­ted to leave the camp, even to live with fam­ily or friends. They will also be barred from trav­el­ling by ve­hi­cle in Bangladesh, land­lords will be pro­hib­ited from rent­ing to them and only those reg­is­tered as refugees will qual­ify for of­fi­cial as­sis­tance.

Poor and over­pop­u­lated, Bangladesh is no haven for the Ro­hingya, a long-perse- cuted Mus­lim mi­nor­ity from Bud­dhist­ma­jor­ity Burma, also known as Myan­mar. Camps were al­ready over­flow­ing with at least 400,000 Ro­hingya be­fore the cur­rent ex­o­dus was pro­voked by Ro­hingya mil­i­tants at­tack­ing Burmese po­lice posts and an army base on Aug. 25.

The Burmese mil­i­tary then be­gan a cam­paign of vil­lage torch­ings, ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings and gang rape, ac­cord­ing to sur­vivors and in­ter­na­tional rights groups.

Wit­nesses and rights or­ga­ni­za­tions 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.

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 flood­prone un­in­hab­ited is­land.

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 Sept. 12, 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 Burma’s civil­ian ad­min­is­tra­tion, an­nounced she would skip the an­nual meet­ing. Suu Kyi, a No­bel Peace Prize lau­re­ate, has been crit­i­cized for de­fend­ing the Burmese mil­i­tary’s crack­down and for stay­ing silent about the plight of the Ro­hingya.

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

On Friday, the Bangladesh govern­ment lodged a for­mal com­plaint with Burma about al­leged vi­o­la­tions of Bangladesh airspace by Burmese mil­i­tary air­craft and drones. Burma dis­missed a sim­i­lar airspace protest this month.

The Bangladesh govern­ment has also been hold­ing two Burmese pho­tog­ra­phers cov­er­ing the Ro­hingya cri­sis for a Ger­man mag­a­zine. The two, Min­za­yar Oo and Hkun Lat, are ac­cused of en­ter­ing the coun­try un­der false pre­tenses, on tourist visas.

The Bangladeshi au­thor­i­ties have sug­gested that the two may be spies, a charge de­nied by their lawyers and fam­i­lies.

DO­MINIQUE FAGET/AFP/GETTY IM­AGES

Ro­hingya Mus­lim chil­dren wait for med­i­cal treat­ment at an over­flow­ing refugee camp in the “no man’s land” be­tween Burma and Bangladesh.

PAULA BRONSTEIN/GETTY IM­AGES

A Ro­hingya fam­ily stands by their makeshift tent at a new refugee camp in Bangladesh.

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