Bangladesh and international agencies have not sent food or relief supplies to thousands of unregistered Rohingya refugees in southeastern Cox’s Bazar district as it starts to recover from Cyclone Mora, a U.N. official and local government representatives said Thursday.
The powerful storm swept through the area two days earlier and flattened thousands of huts housing Rohingya Muslim refugees in Teknaf and Ukhia, two sub-districts of Cox’s Bazar which borders Myanmar’s Rakhine state, from where they fled. The cyclone also left fisherman and others stranded at sea, forcing navies in the region to carry out rescue efforts.
The cyclone affected more than 286,000 people living in Bangladesh’s coastal districts, killing six people and damaging nearly 60,000 houses, according to primary figures from Bangladesh’s disaster management ministry.
An official with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), who requested anonymity, told BenarNews that the agency had not provided support to unregistered refugees in Cox’s Bazar.
“At this moment, we are not giving any food relief,” he said.
The district’s government, according to local officials, provides assistance only to Bangladeshi nationals who live in Cox’s Bazar. The district shelters some 350,000 Rohingya men, women and children who have escaped alleged religious persecution in Rakhine.
Golam Mostofa, a senior member of Bangladesh’s ministry of disaster management, did not answer questions from BenarNews about unregistered refugees affected by the storm, but authorized a junior officer to answer on his behalf.
“We do not know whether the unregistered Rohingya refugees face any problems (caused by Mora),” the junior officer, who declined to identify himself, told BenarNews.
“The disaster management ministry only looks after the registered refugees (in the Kutupalong and Nayapara) camps,” the junior officer said.
About 34,000 Rohingya are registered as refugees and live in two government-run camps in Kutupalong and Nayapara, which are located in Ukhia and Teknaf, according to government officials. Those camps were spared from the cyclone.
Some emergency food and aid did reach refugees in Cox’s Bazar on Thursday, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported without identifying the camps receiving the supplies. The U.N.’s World Food Program said it was handing out 100 tons of high-energy biscuits to nearly 20,000 refugee families.
“After a day of going hungry with my kids, this is amazing,” said Rohingya refugee Abdul Khalek after he received 30 packs of biscuits for his family of eight, according to AFP.
Help could be coming
Abdur Rahman, an additional deputy commissioner for Cox’s Bazar, told BenarNews he had ordered the local administration chiefs in Teknaf and Ukhia sub-districts to prepare a list of unregistered Rohingya affected by Mora. UNHCR is expected to prepare a similar list.
“We will send the list to the higher authorities of the government, and take action in line with their instruction,” Rahman said.
Beginning late last year, according to the United Nations, 75,000 new Rohingya arrivals poured into Cox’s Bazar from across the Myanmar border after that country’s military launched a crackdown against insurgents in Rakhine, following the killings of nine border guards by suspected rebels in October. Less than half of those refugees are housed in government-run camps.
Cyclone Mora flattened many makeshift houses in the Leda refugee camp, June 1, 2017. [Abdur Rahman/BenarNews]
On Thursday, Rohingya in the unregistered camps focused on rebuilding their plastic sheet and bamboo shanties while their children cried.
“The Rohingya living here have been passing days without food. Around 2,000 houses of this slum were flattened by Mora,” Md Dudu Mia, president of Leda unregistered camp in Teknaf, told BenarNews correspondents who visited the camp.
“Around 20,000 men, women and children are in dire condition,” he said, adding that 40 were injured but none were killed by the cyclone.
“The cyclone flattened my house and the rain rotted our rice stock. We have been starving since yesterday ... we have no a place to sleep,” Leda camp resident Abdul Jalil, 40, told BenarNews.
Other makeshift camps suffered the same fate.
“We had a shelter after long suffering, and then the cyclone wiped it out,” Julekha Begum, 24, a resident of Balukhali Rohingya camp in Ukhia, told BenarNews.
Showing her crying child, she said, “(I) have not had any food since morning.”
Some 2,500 of the 3,052 houses were flattened by the cyclone, Balukhali camp president Md Harun, told BenarNews.
“In the last two days, we have been facing severe food and water shortages,” he said.
The Bangladesh Navy rescued 20 fishermen, shown here on the BNS Khadem, from the Bay of Bengal, May 31, 2017. [Inter-Services Public Relations/ Bangladesh Military]
56 fishermen rescued
Meanwhile, the navies of India and Bangladesh launched efforts to rescue fishermen stranded at sea during the storm.
The Indian Naval Ship (INS) Sumitra rescued 33 Bangladeshi fishermen who were found adrift in the Bay of Bengal after the cyclone blew over the bay, according to navy officials in both countries. On Thursday, the Indian ship delivered relief materials for the 33 rescued fishermen and victims of Mora in Bangladesh.
Elsewhere, the Bangladesh Navy rescued at least 23 victims from the Bay of Bengal, according to a statement from the military.
Mushtaq Ahmed, a local fishing industry representative, said eight boats carrying around 150 fishermen had failed to return, according to AFP.
“We heard some 60 fishermen were rescued by Bangladeshi and Indian navy ships. If they’re our men, we think some 90 fishermen are still missing,” he said.
“They could be moored on an island or adrift at sea. In the past we have seen that most of the fishermen return to their fishing ports within a week or two. We hope this time they will also be back in good health.”