More than 20 years after the first wave of Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar, fear is spreading through the sweltering camps of mud houses where they found shelter in southern Bangladesh that they will soon be on the move again.
The refugees worry the Bangladesh government wants them out of sight, perhaps to one of its islands in the Bay of Bengal, as the two countries row over what to do with a stateless minority whose search for security is driving a regional migrant crisis.
“This is home for us now, it is peaceful here.” said Nur Alam, who crossed the Naf river that separates the two countries in a tiny boat in 1991. “We are not sure we will be safe elsewhere.”
About 33,000 men, women and children live crammed into two dilapidated camps in the villages of Kutupalong and Nayapara, near the Myanmar border, that are supported by the United Nations and the Bangladesh government. They are the lucky ones.
There are anywhere from 200,000 to 400,000 more Rohingyas in nearby camps and hills whom the government will not even recognize as temporary refugees lest it weaken its case to send them back to Myanmar, where they say they face persecution.
H.T.Imam, political adviser to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, said the presence of so many foreigners without proper identity documents or work was causing problems for local people and hindering development.
“The Rohingya are the citizens of Myanmar and they must go back,” he said. “We feel for them, but we are unable to host them any longer.”
International focus on the festering plight of the Rohingya has sharpened in recent weeks as more than 4,000 migrants have washed up in rickety boats on the shores of Southeast Asia
Mostly persecuted Rohingyas but also Bangladeshis escaping poverty, were abandoned at sea by people smugglers after Thailand launched a crackdown on gangs trafficking their human cargo across its southern border with Malaysia.
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