Controls placed on refugees
Bangladesh restricts Rohingya movements
COX’S BAZAR: Bangladeshi authorities took steps yesterday to restrict the movement of Muslim Rohingya refugees fleeing violence in Myanmar into crowded border camps and started immunising tens of thousands of children against diseases.
Bangladesh has been overwhelmed with more than 400,000 Rohingya who fled their homes in the past three weeks amid a crisis the UN describes as ethnic cleansing. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who lambasted Myanmar for “atrocities” during a visit to border camps last week, left Dhaka to address the annual UN gathering in New York.
Abdus Salam, the top government administrator in the Cox’s Bazar district hospital, said that some 150,000 children will be immunised over seven days for measles, rubella and polio. The UN said there are 240,000 children living in dire conditions.
“There are a lot of weak and malnourished children among the new arrivals,” Unicef representative in Bangladesh, Edouard Beigbeder, said in an email. “If proper preventive measures are not taken, highly infectious diseases, especially measles, could even cause an outbreak.”
Two pre-existing Rohingya camps were already beyond capacity and the new arrivals were staying in schools or huddling in makeshift settlements with no toilets along roadsides and in open fields.
Police were checking vehicles to prevent the Rohingya from spreading to nearby towns in an attempt to control a chaotic situation.
“There is an instruction from the prime minister that we must treat Rohingya Muslims maintaining human rights,” said AKM Iqbal Hossain, a police superintendent. “As many private and social organisations are coming and distributing relief, sometimes chaos breaks out ... You understand the scale of a humanitarian crisis here, it’s very difficult to keep order, but we are doing so.”
The refugees began pouring in from Myanmar’s Rakhine state after a Rohingya insurgent group launched attacks on security posts on Aug 25, prompting Myanmar’s military to launch “clearance operations” to root out the rebels. Those fleeing have described indiscriminate attacks by security forces and Buddhist mobs.
The Myanmar government said hundreds have died, mostly “terrorists”, and that 176 out of 471 Rohingya villages have been abandoned. Myanmar has insisted Rohingya insurgents and fleeing villagers are destroying their own homes. It has offered no proof to back these charges.
At a state hospital, a Rohingya man who identified himself as Rahmatullah was caring for his 10-year-old son who was recovering from a bullet that left a deep wound as it pierced his right leg.
“Why did they shoot him? What’s his crime? He is just a child,” Rahmatullah said. “It was nine in the morning and I was visiting my neighbour’s home at my Baagguna village when they came and started shooting indiscriminately.” He said he fled with 10 of his family members.
“I started running for the hill, where I hid myself and later collected my son and others and left,” he said.
Eric Schwartz, head of the US-based charity Refugees International and a former assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, said he was shocked at the level of misery in the camps and called for international pressure on Myanmar to stop the violence.
“The stories that we are hearing ... I visited a hospital yesterday, children aged 1, 5, 10 suffered burn wounds, gunshot wounds,” he said. “Human beings essentially treated like animals.”
He said the US should re-impose sanctions on Myanmar that were in place before it made the transition from military to civilian rule.
But officials in Washington have been careful not to undermine the weak civilian government of Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, which took office last year but has lately taken flak.