On her first day at the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar,Bangladesh actress Lisa Surihani’s eyes welled up with tears.
“I couldn’t control myself,” she shares. “I didn’t want to cry but hearing their stories … listening to what the women and children had to go through to escape from the violence in Myanmar and make their way to Bangladesh … it was truly unfathomable and I was overcome with a whole gamut of emotions.
“Seeing what they continue to go through in the camps … how they have lost everything and live in tents made from plastic and bamboo. It was just overwhelming. They left everything behind.
“I have read about and watched the crisis unfold on TV and read about it in the news but I didn’t truly understand the scale of this crisis until I saw it for myself. One of the first things that crossed my mind after the visit to the camp that first day was that I don’t deserve to complain about anything. None of us do,” shares Lisa, who visited the camps for the first time since she became.
The United Nations recently announced that it would help fund Bangladesh’s initiative to move at least some of its Rohingya refugees, who fled Myanmar, from Cox’s Bazar to the island of Bhashan Char in the Ganges delta. Given the population pressures in the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, this seems like a good idea—but it’s anything but. Stranding the Rohingya on the island could have catastrophic consequences.
Bhashan Char is unstable land that only emerged from the sea in 2006, it is extremely vulnerable to monsoons, and it would certainly not allow for the development of stable, self-sufficient communities in the long term. The move would be a disaster for the refugees’ future.
The funding from the U.N. is supposed to mitigate some of these problems, such as by constructing flood protections and housing capable of withstanding the normal weather extremes in the region. U.N. support for the initiative is officially conditional on the rights of the Rohingya being respected: All relocation to Bhashan Char is to be voluntary, there is to be humanitarian response infrastructure on the island, and the government of Bangladesh must at all times, prior and after relocation, provide the relevant information on the project to the refugees who take up the offer of relocation.
This all sounds very well on paper, but the scope for error, intentional or not, is wide—and the consequences disastrous.
For one, this project entrenches Dhaka’s current policy that the Rohingya refugees are to be kept as a separate population so that they will be much easier to repatriate—the idea being that if the locals and the Rohingya do not form any real bonds, there will be nothing to keep any Rohingya in Bangladesh. So they are to be dumped on just about the only uninhabited land in a crowded Bangladesh and conveniently placed more than an hour away by boat from any other humans. The Rohingya know from past persecution in Myanmar that this kind of segregation leaves them vulnerable to changing political winds. They are tolerated for now. A future government in Dhaka may choose to turn on a segregated, disenfranchised, and vulnerable population for any number of reasons.
Some 650 male members of the Rohingya Muslim minority began a hunger strike in the Shumaisi detention center in the Western Saudi port city of Jeddah on Saturday, the third such strike in recent months, according to a report by the Middle East Eye (MEE) on Wednesday.
Most of them have been in detention without trial or charge since 2012, with some of them having developed mental health conditions due to their prolonged detention.
Saudi authorities accuse most of the Rohingya people of having provided fake documentation in a bid to enter the Arab country for work and also to flee the harsh conditions they faced back in Myanmar, their country of origin.
Myanmar has for decades refused to offer the Rohingya passports. Many of the Rohingya locked up in the Shumaisi detention center entered Saudi Arabia with Bangladeshi passports, while others came with documents from different South Asian countries, including Bhutan, India, Pakistan and Nepal.
Riyadh reportedly intend to deport the Rohingya detainees to those countries, even if they have never been there before.
It was not clear whether the countries would take them, and what conditions await the Rohingya if they did.
The prison authorities have taken away all the blankets and bedding from the center since Monday and begun “mentally torturing” the detainees, they told MEE through phones reportedly smuggled into the center.
A new training project in southeast Bangladesh to promote self-reliance among women in communities hosting refugees as well as among Rohingya refugee women has become operational in Cox’s Bazar. The project is potentially a game-changer for women in these communities. It is being supported by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.
UNHCR has teamed up with the Ayesha Abed Foundation (AAF) – the humanitarian arm of our NGO partner BRAC – to support a programme designed to provide income opportunities by developing skills in craft production.
The project formally began in February. It is now being scaled up. At the main, recently opened, training facility centre in Ukhiya, local Bangladeshi women are taught silk screen, block printing and tailoring. Eighteen sub-centres are being opened in other areas of Cox’s Bazar as well as in the refugee camps where refugee women will produce different designs of hand embroidery.
By the end of the first year, the goal is to train 500 women – half of whom are refugees. The ambition is that, if the project is successful, it could expand to train hundreds more. The women receive a small stipend during the six-month training period. UNHCR is funding the programme, but it is hoped the project can break even in the future.
Myanmar troops seized an Arakan Army training camp the hills of turbulent Rakhine state’s Mrauk-U township on Saturday, including weapons, ammunition, and food reserves, a government military spokesman said, though a representative for the rebel group denied the claim, suggesting that it was a fabrication.
Brigadier General Win Zaw Oo, spokesman for the military’s Western Regional Command which is responsible for Rakhine state, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the AA set up the base east of Pan Myaung village as a temporary camp while fighting government soldiers.
“We have been trying to capture the facility step-by-step since March 19 during [our] clearance operations,” he said. “We first had armed engagements with them before we captured it around 2:30 p.m. yesterday.”
“As it was announced, we found huts and residential facilities for 200-300 people and trenches,” he said. “We also found some equipment used for training.”
Win Zaw Oo said the seizure of the camp was the second training facility the Myanmar Army had captured in its battles with the AA which escalated early this year after Arakan fighters carried out deadly attacks on police outposts in northern Rakhine.
Myanmar forces took hold of the other camp east of Tain Nyo village north of Mrauk-U in March.
The situation in the ethnic front is rather grim, with a full scale civil war going on in Rakhine state where the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army are engaged in heavy fighting resulting in the civil administration coming to a stand still within two months of the ongoing conflict.
The Myanmar Army on the other hand has already indicated that it will not be extending the four months’ ceasefire it had declared and is due to end by end April. Major Gen. Soe Naing Oo declared that they have the fighting ability to carry on (indefinitely?) as it is meaningless to extend the ceasefire if there is no prospect of formal results beyond four months.
An arrogant statement indeed when the Myanmar Army is having heavy losses in the Arakan Front. Soon in a week the United State Wa Army is going to display its full military might to celebrate thirty years of cease fire with the Myanmar Army and imagine China sending. its top representatives from Yunnan to attend the celebrations that would extend for three days. Representatives of all other Ethnic Armed Organisations are going to attend in full strength. So much for the repeated declaration of the Chinese that they will not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.
Indeed, the Chinese are holding all the cards and one should return their favourite phrase back to them- “hegemony” The Army Chief was in Beijing for three days and he faithfully praised China as an “eternal friend” and thanked it for countering international pressure on Rohingya crisis.
Soon, towards the end of the month, Suu Kyi will be visiting Beijing with a large delegation to attend the second BRI Conference to be attended by many countries. She will have a tough time in balancing the Chinese demands with the overwhelming disapproval of her ministers not to go too far in getting involved in the BRI of China. The Deputy Planning and Finance Minister U Aung said that the projects under the BRI should be “genuine, inclusive, transformational economic growth”.
Noor Fatima (23) is petrified of leaving her three-month-old daughter Shazia alone even for a minute, so she takes her everywhere — including when she has to defecate next to an open drain near her shanty in Shram Vihar.
“She was a month-old when a rat bit her all over the face. I was bathing and when I came back, she was covered in blood and it was nibbling her face. Is this any way to live?” she asks.
At the slum in Shaheen Bagh, 90 Rohingya Muslim families are spread across a cluster of privately-owned plots, which they have taken on rent. They have lived here since 2012, when, like a thousand others, they fled Myanmar because of religious persecution.
Semi-naked children with protruding bellies run around, stepping on faeces, slush, used band-aids, dirty diapers, broken syringes and bloody gauze. In the midst of the settlement is a bluish mountain of medical waste, right next to one of two hand pumps put up by residents. While some Rohingya Muslims work as labourers, many search through garbage to sell items and earn a living.
“We wash utensils at this pump, bathe here, and drink this water too. Everyone is sick here — breathing problems, malnourishment and stones. The children almost always have diarrhoea,” said Mohd Younis (28), who came to Delhi from Bangladesh in 2012, after fleeing the violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
UN says it has unconfirmed reports suggesting that as many as 30 people may have been killed in Rakhine state attack.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has said it fears that dozens of Rohingya civilians may have been killed in a military attack in Myanmar’s Rakhine state last week, despite official government tolls putting the number of dead at six.
“We are now receiving reports that the number may be much higher than that. We have unconfirmed reports that the number may be as high as 30,” said Ravina Shamdasani, the spokesperson for the OHCHR, on Tuesday.
On Friday, the the Myanmar army-run Myawady Daily newspaper had said the six Rohingya killed and nine wounded in Wednesday’s aerial attack were “together with terrorists while the army was cracking down on the Arakan Army’s terrorist activities” in Buthidaung township, referring to an armed group that draws much of its recruits from the ethnic Rakhine population.
But Arakan Army Spokesman Khin Thu Kha denied that the dead and wounded men were members of the armed group, saying the military had attacked indiscriminately.
“They bombed everywhere, believing there were Arakan Army members in the jungle,” he was quoted as saying by the Reuters news agency.
Three villagers and a regional legislator had also told Reuters on Thursday that the men were collecting bamboo near the Sai Din waterfall when an army helicopter attacked.
“All of them were bamboo workers,” said Soe Tun Oo, a fellow labourer.
Reports out of the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh usually focus on the massive humanitarian efforts carried out by Bangladesh and its international partners. Together, they have supplied food, education, housing and medicine for hundreds of thousands of people with no other place to go.
Even more remarkable is what has not happened. There has been no terrorism, no mass radicalization and no loss of life due to illness, flooding or religious bigotry.
The Rohingya are an ethnic minority that practices a Sufi variation of Sunni Islam. There are an estimated 3.5 million Rohingya worldwide. Prior to 2017, the Rohingya lived primarily in Myanmar’s Rhakine state, where they faced persecution, violence and, often, death. Since then, 740,000 have fled to neighboring Bangladesh, bringing the total number of refugees there to well over a million.
The United Nations warns of possible war crimes by Myanmar’s military after a helicopter attack in a village killed Rohingya Muslim in the fields Wednesday.
The Myanmar military is again carrying out attacks against its own civilians; attacks which may constitute war crimes,” U.N. spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani told journalists.
The U.N. Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner reported that Wednesday evening two military helicopters flew over Hpon Nyo Leik village firing at Rohingya Muslims who were tending livestock and crops in the fields in the south Buthidaung township in the western state of Rakhine.
Numbers vary between accounts. The U.N. stated that at least seven civilians were killed, and 18 others were injured, according to sources in Myanmar.
“These particular killings we have been able to verify with some certainty,” Shamdasani said, adding that OHCHR had received a large number of videos and photographs of the attack. “This is why we’re putting it out there: that there was a helicopter attack, that bombs were dropped, and that these seven civilians were killed.”
Villagers and a lawmaker in Rakhine state said Thursday that the military helicopter attacked a group of Rohingya Muslims gathering bamboo and killed five while wounding 13. However, the next day Myanmar’s military said that six Rohingya Muslims were killed and nine others wounded — insisting they were affiliated with an armed rebel group.