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In Bangladesh, hungry and traumatised Rohingya everywhere

10 September, 2017 3:25 PM
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Government sources say around 100 babies were born in the no-man’s land near the border during the past two weeks

Salimullah, the primary earning member of an eight-member family in Myanmar’s Rakhine, crossed the border over to Bangladesh last week. Fleeing violence in the trouble-hit Rakhine state, Mr. Salimullah, 40, hoped that he would at least be safe in Bangladesh. But ever since he reached the country, Mr. Salimullah has been spending days and nights on the Kutupalang Dhal road in Ukhia, a sub-district in Cox’s Bazar.

“We have no option but to be on the roadside. The camps are full. We have no food except some biscuits and bread given by local aid workers,” Mr. Salimulla told The Hindu on Sunday afternoon.

Like Mr. Salimullah, tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims from Rakhine have entered Bangladesh over the past two weeks. The refugee camps in Kutupalang and Nayapara in Cox’s Bazar are already overcrowded, forcing new refugees to stay on the roadside.

On the Ukhia-Teknaf road, which leads up to Leda on the Myanmar border, The Hindu met hundreds of people, including women, children and elderly. Some of them have set up makeshift tents using old clothes and polythene. “Please help me, forget about us, my kid will die if I don’t get milk or food,” Khaleda Begum, a young mother, told this reporter, carrying her newborn baby.

Ms. Begum and her husband fled Mongodu in Rakhine as Myanmar security forces launched an “anti-insurgency” operation. “They burnt our village and we had to flee,” she said with tears rolling down her cheeks. In Bangladesh, like many others, they had to take roadside shelter.

Government sources said around 100 babies were born in the no-man’s land near the border during the past two weeks, without any medical attention and in unsafe and unhygienic conditions. “Unless they [children] are picked up from roads and taken to hospitals, they are sure to die,” a local official said.

Bangladesh was already hosting 5,00,000 Rohingya refugees who fled violence in Rakhine over the past several years before the latest crisis broke out. The new wave of refugee influx started after Myanmar security forces started an operation in Rakhine following an insurgent attack on police camps on August 24. Some 3,00,000 Rohingya have entered Bangladesh since late August, according to government officials and aid agencies.

The people stranded on the border do not have enough food or medicines, according to aid agencies. Many of them are still trying to cross the mountains, dense bush and rice fields to reach Bangladesh. Several of them get shot while trying to cross the border or get wounded in landmine explosions.

A total of 86 Rohingyas have been admitted to Chittagong Medical College Hospital over the past few weeks, mostly wounded by gunfire or landmine explosions. Two of them have died. Besides, at least 89 people have drowned while trying to reach Bangladesh via water.

The U.N. Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh on Saturday appealed for aid, saying the aid agencies working in Ukhia and Teknaf urgently needed $77 million to cope with the situation.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who said the county was giving humanitarian assistance to the hapless people, has also urged Myanmar to take back the refugees the soonest. She will visit the Kutupalang refugee camp in Ukhia on September 12.

Bangladesh has proposed creating “safe zones” run by U.N. agencies for the Rohingya in Rakhine to stop the refugee flow. Dhaka had earlier proposed a joint operation with Myanmar forces on the border against militant and extremist forces, but Naypyidaw has not responded.

The Bangladesh government, meanwhile, started building new camps to house more 2,00,000 refugees at Balu Khali in Cox’s Bazar. “The refugees now roaming the streets and in the fields will themselves move to Balu Khali once the camps are completed,” said one official. But nobody seems to have an answer on what they will do till the camps are ready.


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