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What are Dhaka’s concerns in the Rohingya shift plan?

Rohingyas at the Kutupalong refugee camp.  

Within a year, the Kutupalong camps near the famed unbroken beaches of Cox’s Bazaar have emerged as home for 13 lakh Rohingya refugees who were displaced from Myanmar by its military. The Myanmar military is the enemy back home for the refugees, but they have to remain alert for the weather shocks in Bangladesh as plans are afoot to shift them to an islet that lies in the way of violent storms.

What is the problem?

Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali clarified at a meeting with a foreign media delegation that the Rohingya are not Bengalis and have a distinct identity that should be recognised. India and China are building homes in Rakhine to accommodate those who return home. But no one on the ground is sure that they would return after the assault they experienced. The Minister clarified that storm-shelters had been built on the islet, located in the path of deadly annual cyclones that visit the region, to help the Rohingya settle there. However, it remains unclear whether any of the current refugees of Kutupalong would shift there voluntarily as the community leaders have disagreed with Dhaka’s plan to leave the safe surrounding of what was once an elephant sanctuary.

What are the living conditions?

The 2017 monsoon was a shocker as most of the refugees had come with almost nothing and they had nowhere to stay. But now at least most of them have a roof overhead, though conditions are far from perfect, with large families cramped in tiny hutments. Just a year ago, the hills near Kutupalong used to host wild elephants and leopards, but the tide of Rohingya refugees from across the Myanmar border has evicted the wildlife and removed the forest. On the denuded hills and knolls has emerged a gigantic slum colony supported mainly by Bangladesh.

When did they begin arriving?

The history of Rohingya refugees is nearly four decades old. A small Rohinya colony had sprung up in the area in 1979 when the first wave of a military campaign targeted the community in Myanmar’s Rakhine or Arakan province. Along with other ethnic groups such as the Karens and Kachins in eastern Myanmar, the Rohingya on the western coast have been at the receiving end of the mainly Buddhist military.

What are Dhaka’s concerns in the Rohingya shift plan?
 

The 2017 monsoon changed the trickle of 1979 into a deluge of humanity. On September 5, 2017, Mohammed Nikaruzzaman, sub-district officer, found hundreds of thousands of Rohingya sitting in the rain as they emerged through the forested hills on the border from Rakhine. Today, nearly 6,000 acres of land across this region, which allows one to peer deep into Myanmar, is covered with homes made of bamboo and plastic sheets. From above, the location appears like a gigantic quilt with multicoloured polythene sheets. The displacement of the Rohingya is an enormous tragedy, but the quick response of the government of Bangladesh and support from countries like Turkey, India and Australia and relief organisations has helped in preventing the tragedy from going out of control.

When can they return home?

China and India have also pledged support, but the real issue is the return of the refugees and ensuring justice for the victims who faced atrocities at the hands of the Myanmar military. The ultimate fate of the 13 lakh refugees is being debated and it is not clear where they will finally reside. Further, there are concerns about the way this growing population is altering the demography of Chittagong. There is fear of an epidemic outbreak. “We detected cases of cholera and isolated them and immunised the rest. Another 6,000 suspected diphtheria cases were identified and an immunisation drive was carried out,” said Mr. Nikaruzzaman. To prevent open defecation, 50,000 toilets have been built. The real issue is the return of the refugees. There is palpable tension whenever anyone wants to know about the plan of return. “We will return when Myanmar ensures our future. But where will we go as most of our property is destroyed,” said Abdul Aziz, a Rohingya man. They have to return home, says Bangladesh.


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Printable version | Jun 19, 2021 8:49:41 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/what-are-dhakas-concerns-in-the-rohingya-shift-plan/article25273787.ece

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