In an interview with BenarNews following bilateral talks over the Rohingya refugee crisis, the Bangladeshi home minister said he told a high-level Myanmar delegation that Naypyidaw’s security forces must stop laying land-mines along the border with Bangladesh and intruding into its airspace.
Meanwhile, Bangladeshi officials on Thursday announced plans to concentrate some 900,000 Rohingya refugees sheltering in the southeast into a single space by adjoining 3,000 acres of land located next to the Kutapalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar district.
The week began with Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal and Foreign Minister A.H. Mahmood Ali meeting in Dhaka with Kyaw Tint Swe, the minister for the Office of the State Counsellor of Myanmar, and other delegates from Naypyidaw to discuss how the two countries could work together to resolve tensions over the crisis.
More than one-half million Rohingya Muslims have fled to southeastern Bangladesh from Myanmar’s Rakhine state since the last week of August alone. Another 400,000 had entered Bangladesh after fleeing from earlier cycles of violence in Rakhine.
At Monday’s meeting where Kyaw Tint Swe said Myanmar was willing to take back Rohingya who had fled to Bangladesh, according to the Bangladeshi side, the home minister said he brought up the issue of land-mines and incursions by Myanmar helicopters and drones into Bangladeshi airspace.
“I raised the issue of planting land mines along the zero line. I clearly told the honorable minister that, according to international law, Myanmar cannot plant land mines along the border. This is illegal,” Minister Khan told BenarNews during an interview at his office after the talks.
Bangladeshi police and border guards reported at least 10 people, mostly Rohingya refugees, have been killed by anti-personnel explosives on the Myanmar side of the border as they fled to Naikhangchhari, in southeastern Bangladesh.
“The Myanmar minister listened to us and said he was taking note of the matter and he would communicate Bangladesh’s concern with the right authorities,” Khan said.
The latest influx has occurred amid a crackdown by the Myanmar military that followed attacks on police outposts in Rakhine state, mounted on Aug. 25 by a militant outfit known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).
On Thursday, a U.S. State Department official expressed concern that the exodus to Bangladesh, combined with Myanmar’s military crackdown in Rakhine, could lead to an influx of international terrorists, according to the Associated Press.
“Burma’s nascent democracy is at a turning point and a heavy-handed response invites international terrorists and challenges for other neighbors,” said Patrick Murphy, a senior department official for Southeast Asia, using the alternative name for Myanmar.
Since the crisis broke out, Bangladesh’s foreign ministry had summoned Myanmar’s acting ambassador in Dhaka three times to protest air space violations by Burmese helicopters and drones.
“I raised the issue of air space violations. The Myanmar minister replied their helicopters flew according to the GPS. The minister said the air space violation occurred because of the faulty GPS,” Khan said.
“Then I asked him why Myanmar did not correct this as Bangladesh had repeatedly conveyed concerns about air space violations,” Khan said.
Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal speaks during a program at Dhaka University, July 23, 2017. [Focus Bangla]
No refugee status
Concerning Rohingya Muslims, Bangladesh’s government will not offer them refugee status but will refer to them instead as “forcibly displaced Myanmar citizens,” Disaster Management and Relief Secretary Shah Kamal told reporters on Thursday.
“We are not terming them as Rohingya refugees. This means they are not being recognized as refugees. They have just sought shelter here in Bangladesh,” the secretary told a news conference.
In addition, officials announced that the government was planning to move all Rohingya people scattered in different sub-districts of the southeast into one giant Kutapalong camp.
“[A]ll the Rohingyas who fled into Bangladesh from Myanmar since 1978 till now will be moved to one place temporarily. Then it will be easier for us to provide them food and maintain law and order,” Disaster Management and Relief Minister Mofazzal Hossain Chowdhury Maya told reporters, according to local media.
The government plans to construct camps to shelter Rohingya on 3,000 acres of land next to Kutapalong camp, he said.
“The government had earlier allocated 2,000 acres … but now it has been increased to 3,000 acres to accommodate the increased number of Rohingya,” Maya said. “We are doing this to ensure security, food supply, medical treatment, sanitation facilities and proper registration.”
Bangladesh will construct 150,000 camps to accommodate the increasing number of Rohingya.
“At first we had a plan to construct 84,000 camps, but now the number has been increased to meet the need of the rising number of Rohingya,” he said.
Millions of dollars needed
In other related news, humanitarian groups assisting Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh said they needed U.S. $434 million to scale up efforts to bring them relief, according to the United Nations.
The U.N.’s migration agency, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), has been leading the efforts of humanitarian agencies on behalf of the Bangladesh government.
“Unless we support the efforts of the Bangladesh government to provide immediate aid to the half million people who have arrived over the past month, many of the most vulnerable – women, children and the elderly – will die,” said William Lacy Swing, IOM’s director general, in a statement. “They will be the victims of neglect.”
“Bangladesh, IOM, and its partners are now struggling to provide adequate shelter, food, clean water, health care, and protection to hundreds of thousands camped out over the vast muddy sites that now dot Cox’s Bazar,” he said. “Five weeks on from the start of the crisis, funding has started to arrive, but much more will be needed.”
Jesmin Papri in Dhaka contributed to this report.