The plight of hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas who came to Bangladesh fleeing violence and persecution in Myanmar remains miserable a year after the latest round of influx since August 2017.
They continue to live in squalor, in crammed shelters, with health and sanitation facilities far below than what are needed.
International aid workers have warned that disasters like possible landslide may worsen the plight of Rohingyas as another cyclone season looms in September.
Since August 25, 2017, more than 7.20 lakh ethnic minority Rohingyas, fleeing violence and systemic discrimination in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, have found shelter and safety in Cox’s Bazar. They have joined an estimated 4 lakh Rohingyas from previous waves of influx fuelled by intimidation by Myanmar government and army since 1978.
Bangladesh government and International aid officials said that they were trying hard to cope with the situation as Rohingyas were mostly living in overcrowded camps, making it the largest and most densely populated refugee settlement in the world.
‘This brings daily challenges of delivering shelter, water and sanitation and access to basic services, as well as protection considerations such as the safety of women and girls,’ UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic said in a statement on Friday.
‘It is normal that there will some risk of outbreak
of water borne diseases like diarrhoea and cholera. We are trying to contain the situation,’ refugee relief and repatriation commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam told New Age.
‘Is it possible to keep them alive with humanitarian assistance for a long time,’ he asked.
‘Pressure on environment and infrastructures is growing every day. Their number will increase as more birth will take place. We want repatriation of them as soon as possible,’ Abul Kalam said.
Saturday marked a year since one of the 21st century’s worst refugee crises gripped the world’s attention. In 2017, an unprecedented number of Rohingyas began fleeing their homes in Rakhine State after Myanmar military launched a crackdown following attacks on border posts allegedly by Rohingya rebels.
United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres termed it as ‘a humanitarian and human rights nightmare’ and UN denounced it as a ‘textbook example of ethnic cleansing’.
Since August 25, 2017 terrified, starving, exhausted Rohingyas have continued arriving in Bangladesh trekking through hills and crossing rough sea and the River Naf on boat and taking shelter here and there in Cox’s Bazar. Their camps built on precarious hillsides risk being washed away by the monsoon rain, or destroyed by a cyclone.
About 6,000 acres of national forests were cleared. Areas previously inhabited by wild elephants became barren. The lush, green, hilly landscape rapidly transformed into town of tents as far as the eye can see.
Men carried tired children and old people in baskets on shoulder, together with whatever meagre possessions they had salvaged from their homes. But there were some unlucky who could not cross the border alive.
At least 181 Rohingays died as their wooden boat capsized and according to Border Guard Bangladesh officials, at least seven Rohingyas were killed and over a dozen were injured in blasts of landmine planted by Myanmar security forces along the border.
Elephants searching for food trampled 12 Rohingyas to death in multiple incidents while Diphtheria outbreak took lives of 44 Rohingyas.
UNHCR said that more than 720,000 Rohingyas, fled violence since August 25, 2017.
Bangladesh officials estimated that the new influx already took to 11.39 lakh the number of documented and undocumented Myanmar nationals in Bangladesh entering the country at times since 1978. The number of Rohingyas at Teknaf and Ukhia upazilas became almost three fold the number of Bangladeshis there, 4.7 lakh.
Department of Immigration and Passports completed biometric registration of 11,18,576 Rohingyas till June 2018.
Rohingyas fled unrest in Rakhine in 1978, 1991-92 and October 2016 and almost all of them took shelter at Teknaf and Ukhia upazilas in Cox’s Bazar, which housed two registered Rohingya camps and several other unregistered camps.
Rohingyas are putting immense pressure on water and health facilities and local markets.
‘We along with international humanitarian agencies have been trying our best to face the situation,’ Abul Kalam said.
‘Challenges include that of congestion, terrain and climate. The steep slopes are prone to landslides; the climate is harsh with the heavy monsoon rains capable of triggering landslides,’ said Inter Sector Coordination Group, a combine of United Nation agencies and international aid groups, spokesperson Nayana Bose.
Across all sectors, including protection, shelter, health, nutrition, water and sanitation, services remain elementary, and far below internationally accepted standards. Food remains a critical need, with more than 866,000 Rohingya dependent on monthly distributions of food aid, she said.
International Organisation for Migration chief of mission in Bangladesh Giorgi Gigauri said that this was the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world and the challenges were immense.
Countless lives have been saved thanks to the generosity of the government of Bangladesh, the local community and donors, and the hard work of all those involved in the humanitarian response, she said. ‘But we now face the very real threat that if more funding is not urgently secured, lives will once again be at risk.’
Challenges remain as the Rohingya crisis continues to evolve and the situation is fluid, World Health Organisation spokesperson Catalin Bercaru said.
One year on, the health needs of this highly vulnerable population continue to be immense and is likely to increase many folds in the ongoing rainy season as heavy rains are flooding the camps, increasing the risk of water borne diseases such as diarrhoea and hepatitis; and vector borne diseases such as malaria, dengue and chikungunya, he said.
‘Health services need to be maintained and further scaled up, to meet the demand of this large population settled on a challenging terrain’ he demanded.
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