The Bangladesh government should relocate Rohingya refugees from a severely overcrowded mega camp in Cox’s Bazar where they face flooding and landslides to safer ground nearby, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a 68-page report issued Monday.
About 700,000 Rohingya fled from Myanmar’s Rakhine state since August 2017 when government forces launched a brutal crackdown in response to attacks blamed on Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army insurgents. The refugees joined 200,000 Rohingya who fled previous waves of persecution, HRW reported.
“Densely packed refugees are at heightened risk of communicable diseases, fires, community tensions, and domestic and sexual violence. Bangladeshi authorities should relocate Rohingya refugees to smaller, less densely packed camps on flatter, accessible, nearby land within the same Ukhiya subdistrict where the mega camp is located,” Human Rights Watch said in announcing the report.
Relocation is crucial for the health and well-being of all refugees, HRW said after issuing the report based on a visit to Cox’s Bazar in May. It added experts pointed out six feasible relocation sites in Ukhiya subdistrict totaling more than 1,300 acres which could accommodate 263,000 people.
Bangladesh and Myanmar last year agreed to a plan to repatriate thousands of Rohingya beginning in January, but efforts have been beset by delays.
“Bangladeshi authorities, to maintain pressure on Myanmar to agree to the return of the refugees, insist that the camps are temporary. This, however, contributes to the poor conditions in the camps, as the government has blocked the construction of permanent structures, including cyclone-resistant buildings, and has not allowed for other infrastructure that would suggest longer-term stay,” HRW said.
Bangladesh’s commissioner for refugee relief and repatriation responded to HRW’s report.
“Various plans and initiatives have been taken in this regard and are being implemented in phases,” Mohammad Abul Kalam told BenarNews about Rohingyas living in the Megacamp.
“We have already passed the time of floods and landslides,” he said of the monsoon season, adding, “it was said that thousands of people would die, nothing much has happened.”
HRW also commented on a government proposal to move 100,000 Rohingya to a low-lying flood prone island, Bhashan Char. It said the island, formed in the last 20 years by silt from the Meghna River, appears to be unsuitable for refugees, and experts predict it could be submerged in the event of a strong cyclone during high tide.
“No final decision has been taken regarding transfer of Rohingyas to Bhashan Char. The matter is at the planning stage,” Kalam said. “The committee that has been constituted for verification of its feasibility, has not yet responded.”
Bill Frelick, refugee rights director at Human Rights Watch and author of the report, pointed out that Bangladesh is being forced to deal with a problem created by its neighbor.
“It has been nearly one year since Myanmar’s campaign of killings, rape and arson drove the Rohingya refugees across the border. Responsibility for this crisis lies with Myanmar, even though the burdens of this mass influx have mostly fallen on Bangladesh,” Frelick said.
“Myanmar’s failure to take any meaningful actions to address recent atrocities against the Rohingya, or the decades-long discrimination and repression against the population, is at the root of delays in refugees being able to go home.”
In a statement issued Friday, the Bangladesh government said it had recruited 2,720 teachers and set up close to 1,200 educational centers for Rohingya refugee children, “in addition to providing shelter, medicine and food” to the Rohingya refugee population.