Bangladesh’s army chief said Monday he expected that his branch would be tasked with erecting barbed-wire fencing around 34 Rohingya refugee camps in and around southeastern Cox’s Bazar district, pending approval from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Last week, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told BenarNews that the government planned to install barbed wire fences around the camps, which hold 1.1 million people, to stop the Rohingya from fleeing.
“The Army supports the prime minister’s decision on the Rohingya,” said Gen. Aziz Ahmed, the army chief of staff, adding the service was preparing for the project.
“We are making the fencing plan. At the same time, we will also work to regulate the movement of Rohingya,” he told reporters in Chittagong.
Minister Khan said he expected Hasina, who was due to return to Bangladesh on Tuesday from a trip to New York, where she addressed the United Nations General Assembly, to voice her approval.
Previously, Emanur Rahman, the state minister for disaster management and relief, said that a National Task Force on Rohingya had recommended that Hasina grant permission for the project.
“Our prime minister is actively considering the fencing option. Upon her arrival from the U.S., the government will move to build the barbed wire fence according to her instruction,” Rahman told BenarNews. “The army is likely to build the barbed wire fencing.”
On Sept. 4, a parliamentary defense panel discussed the Rohingya crisis and recommended tasking the army with constructing the fencing around camps in the Ukhia and Teknaf sub-districts of Cox’s Bazar, according to retired Col. Faruk Khan, a panel member.
Md Mahbub Alam Talukder, Bangladesh’s newly appointed refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, said the project was in the development stage.
“So, now we cannot assess the estimated cost and extent of the fencing project,” he told BenarNews.
During her speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Friday, Hasina warned that the Rohingya refugee crisis was “now going beyond the camps despite our efforts to contain it.”
“The crisis is now becoming a regional threat,” she told the gathering of world leaders.
The international community “must ensure that the root causes of the Rohingya problem are addressed and the violation of human rights and other atrocity crimes committed against the Rohingya are accounted for,” the prime minister said.
More than 740,000 Rohingya fled to southeastern Bangladesh from Myanmar after government security forces launched a brutal crackdown in August 2017 in the wake of deadly attacks by Rohingya insurgents on police and army posts in Rakhine state.
“The Rohingya are refugees. We have given them shelter on humanitarian grounds, but we see that they are fleeing the camps. The police have been arresting Rohingya in different parts of the country,” Khan, the minister, told BenarNews last week.
On Monday, groups representing Rohingya in the camps spoke out against the proposal.
“Many of the Rohingya oppose the fencing,” Abdur Rahim, the leader of a camp in Kutupalong, told BenarNews. “Fencing can reduce the flow of those fleeing the camps, but it cannot completely stop them.”
The government will do what it wants, said Syed Ullah, general secretary of the Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights.
“We have nothing to say about the government’s move to fence the camps. It is immaterial whether we want fencing or not – the government will go ahead with its decision. But fencing will not work,” Ullah told BenarNews.
“This is because bringing peace is not possible through force,” he said. “In Myanmar, we had been in settlements with barbed wire fencing. We crossed the border by tearing it apart.”
Recent violence involving Rohingya included a shooting in Cox’s Bazar on Aug. 22, when gunmen, suspected to be Rohingya, gunned down a youth wing official of the ruling Awami League party, according to government officials.
The killing of Omar Faruk near his residence in Teknaf triggered protests the next day, with participants blocking a local highway for three hours and vandalizing shops and houses inside a Rohingya camp, local media reported.
In a follow up operation, police shot and killed two Rohingya suspects in what they described as a “shootout” near a refugee camp in Teknaf, according to Pradip Kumar Das, officer-in-charge of Teknaf police station.