Rohingya refugees fear Bangladesh camp relocation plans

Arifa
By June 5, 2015 06:31

Rohingya refugees fear Bangladesh camp relocation plans

DHAKA, Bangladesh – Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh have been spooked by a government announcement of plans to relocate refugee camps to an offshore island vulnerable to extreme weather.

For the second time in six months, Bangladesh’s government last week announced its intention to shift the camps away from the southeastern Cox’s Bazar district, where thousands of Rohingya have fled to for decades, seeking respite from persecution across the border in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

The proposed new site on the offshore Hatiya island is controversial, however, as environmental researchers consider it to be vulnerable to extreme weather, including flooding and cyclones.

“The refugees are totally reluctant to go there because the environment of that place is not good at all,” Zahid Hossain, a registered Rohingya refugee who lives in the Nayapara refugee camp, told Anadolu Agency.

“A few years back [Rohingya] people used to live in that island [for work] and many people were killed by natural disasters such as storms and floods.”

“The refugees even agree they would rather die like those who are still in the open sea than go to that island,” he said.

Bangladesh-based Rohingya news network Kaladan Press quoted a Rohingya community leader as saying that they would not move to the new location because it is isolated and prone to floods.

Research from Bangladesh’s Island Development Association in 2013 noted that Hatiya’s exceptional vulnerability increases the spread of diseases, results in crop damage and has left many people landless, while there is a shortage of safe sheltering spaces in the event of a disaster.

The government previously said that it planned to relocate the refugees away from Cox’s Bazar for humanitarian reasons, by providing a larger space for the refugees. Activists, however, say the main motivation is to reclaim land by the southeastern coast, home to the world’s longest beach, for tourism projects.

Andrew Day, an activist who works with Rohingya refugees, said he does not believe the government will follow through but that the announcement has caused panic.

“A lot of them are freaking out. I tell them not to worry,” he said. “The mindset for refugees is that UNHCR [United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights] is powerless to stop a move of that magnitude and that the Bangladesh government calls the shot at UNHCR.”

“It’s a way to make the current refugees fear for their future while sending a message to the ones in Myanmar that coming here isn’t a better option.”

Despite the government announcements, aid workers and Rohingya activists have said that there has been no evidence of the government actively preparing to move the camps.

It is also unclear whether the government plans to shift all 250,000 Rohingya refugees estimated to be living in Bangladesh.

Only 35,000 are registered as refugees and live in government and UNHCR-run camps, while there is no official record of the others, who are unregistered refugees mostly living in large settlements near the official camps.

“They’ve made the announcement but they haven’t informed us or UNHCR,” said Rohingya activist Zafar Alam Dipu, who said he would not be opposed to the idea of moving to new camps if the government provided a suitable location.

“The Bangladesh government should select a specific area and put both registered and unregistered refugees there so that they can track them and if the situation is favorable, we can return to our homeland,” said Dipu.

Onchita Shadman, spokeswoman for UNHCR in Bangladesh, said they have not been contacted by the government about making preparations for relocation, but that they would hope that any move would be voluntary.

“We hope that if any move takes place, it will be carried out in a dignified manner. A forced relocation will be very complex and controversial,” she said. “The success of any relocation will depend on the refugees’ perception of living conditions at the new location.”

The current refugee camps and many of their inhabitants came after 1991, when tens of thousands of Rohingya moved into Bangladesh following alleged state-organized persecution that involved Rohingya being forced into labor camps, land being seized and mosques being destroyed.

Despite the long presence of Rohingya in Bangladesh, the majority remain unregistered and are treated as illegal immigrants rather than refugees.

Bangladesh’s government has until recently banned all aid to unregistered refugees, arguing that it encourages more Rohingya to cross the border, though aid groups dispute this claim, insisting that Rohingya are compelled to leave by conditions in Arakan (Rakhine) state.

Registered refugees also face limitations on their freedom to study, move and work, allegedly facing discrimination from authorities and sometimes hostility from local Bangladeshi communities.

“It’s a different pressure in Bangladesh,” Rohingya activist Dipu told Anadolu Agency.

“Not like [the persecution of] Myanmar, but a different kind… Youth can’t do any higher study, they can’t integrate with any regular Bangladeshi youth.”

Hossain, a Rohingya refugee who arrived in Bangladesh as a child, also explained that in the past they were punished for attempting to study in Bangladesh.

“We used to study very secretly, with our sheets over our heads. But police would come and say why are we studying? Is this your country to study?” Hossain recalled.

“Some were arrested, they had their fingers broken and their nails were pulled.”

Note:Changes have been made,News Fulton County is not responsible for these.

Source:News Fulton County.

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Arifa
By June 5, 2015 06:31

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