A DESPERATE PORT IN A DEADLY STORM
Bangladesh to build tightly restricted camp for Rohingya
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.
Rohingya Muslim children wait for medical treatment at an overflowing refugee camp in the “no man’s land” between Burma and Bangladesh.
A Rohingya family stands by their makeshift tent at a new refugee camp in Bangladesh.