No end to influx of Rohingyas fleeing persecution in Myanmar is in sight as the ethnic minority people continue to enter Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh seeking safety even one year after the beginning of the ongoing influx.
Rohingyas are entering at a decreasing rate compare to early days of their influx to Bangladesh through different points and taking refuge at different camps in Cox’s Bazar despite Myanmar’s assurance of taking steps to stop the exodus.
The Rohingya new arrivals said that their relatives remaining in Rakhine state of Myanmar were also planning to flee to Bangladesh because of continued fears while some of them already gathered on the bank of Naf River opposite to Shah Parir Dwip in Cox’s Bazar.
Rohingya community leaders said that they came to know from the new arrivals that after months of struggle at burnt houses and empty villages, they were forced to leave their home in the fear of persecution and arrest by security forces.
‘New arrivals said that they were almost starving in Myanmar as they were not allowed to take part in farming and fishing,’ said Rohingya community leader Abdur Rahim who fled to Cox’s Bazar.
‘Arrival of Rohingyas in Bangladesh has not stopped,’ said refugee relief and repatriation commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam.
At least 190 Rohingyas in August and about 13,000 in 2018 entered Bangladesh, UNHCR said on Friday.
More than 720,000 Rohingyas, fleeing violence and systemic discrimination in Rakhine State, have found shelter and safety in Cox’s Bazar since August 25, 2017, UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic said at a briefing in Geneva.
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.
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.
The new influx began after Myanmar security forces responded to Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army’s reported attacks on August 25 by launching violence that the United Nations denounced as ethnic cleansing.
The number of Rohingyas at Teknaf and Ukhia upazilas became almost three fold the number of Bangladeshis there, 4.7 lakh.
Many Rohingyas taking shelter at the world’s biggest refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar or outside the camp are living in inhuman conditions. They 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.
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. A cholera or measles epidemic remains a real possibility, warned UN agencies.
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.
Bangladesh and Myanmar signed three deals on November 23 and December 19 in 2017 and January 16, 2018 for setting modalities of physical arrangement for partial repatriation, subject to verification by Myanmar authorities, within two years of transferring the first batch of Rohingyas.
Bangladesh, in a meeting between home ministers of the two neighbours in Dhaka on February 16 stressed the need for an immediate end to the continued Rohingya influx.
The Myanmar side assured of taking steps to stop the continued influx, home minister Asaduzzaman Khan said after the February 16 meeting.
UNHCR operational update for August 1-15 said that almost 12 months after violence Rohingya refugees continue flee to Bangladesh, but at a decreasing rate.
‘New arrivals continue to raise their concerns about security in Rakhine State. They also cite disagreement over a requirement by the Myanmar government to accept the National Verification Card in Myanmar,’ the UN refugee agency said.
‘Despite dangerous weather conditions affecting the water currents on the Naf River, most refugees still continue to arrive by boat. More than half of the new arrivals reported that relatives remaining in Myanmar also plan to leave due to continued fears,’ it said.
It also said that 12,936 Rohingyas have arrived in Cox’s Bazar seeking safety since January 1, 2018.
Rohingya community leaders said that their fellows continued leaving Myanmar as they had no trust in Myanmar government’s arrangements for their repatriation and they faced lack of food and security.
‘Continued arrival of Rohingyas is the outcome of lack of trust and security situation,’ Abul Kalam said.
‘When we went to Myanmar in August, we saw military presence there. We went to a camp near Sitwee, we saw that Rohingyas were confined. Some of our colleagues tried to talk with Rohingyas but they did not respond,’ he said.
‘We have seen a number of destroyed mosques,’ he added.