Bangladesh's Rohingya camps are growing security and environmental hazard
Activities of militant organizations have developed around the Rohingya camps in Cox's Bazar. A web of militancy is spreading in the camps with the money coming from six countries including the Middle East and Pakistan.
The 25th of August 2017 is a dark day in the history of human civilization. On this day, the entire world witnessed a colossal humanitarian crisis in the Rakhine State of Myanmar. The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked almost thirty army checkpoints. They also attacked even the Myanmar police force. Shortly after the said attack, ARSA published a statement admitting responsibility. Soon after ARSA's response, the Myanmar military launched a counter-military attack on the Rohingyas.
Village after village was burned down by Myanmar military forces; many young Rohingya men were killed indiscriminately, and Rohingya women and girls were raped. Landmines were buried in various places. Millions of Rohingya fled Rakhine State after being subjected to violent attacks. Rohingyas crossed the border like rivers and entered into neighbouring State Bangladesh. Within weeks, more than 1.1 million people had entered Bangladesh in search of safety and asylum.
Bangladesh has undoubtedly shown extreme generosity by sheltering the Rohingya in the face of a significant humanitarian crisis. However, it appears that Rohingya are exploiting this generosity that Bangladesh has shown towards them. From the day they entered Bangladesh to this day, Myanmar has yet to extend a hand of cooperation regarding the return of the Rohingyas to Myanmar. Instead, Myanmar is more interested in expelling the Rohingyas and building an economic zone in Arakan State.
Countries such as China, India, Japan, and even influential organizations such as the EU have invested in this economic zone. But Myanmar is forgetting that the Rohingyas are an uneducated and unskilled group of people. Rohingyas could have become a source of low-cost labour in the economic zones. Since the Rohingyas are not there, now they have to buy labour at a comparatively higher price. This means that Myanmar's economic zones could have been more attractive to foreign investors if the reinstatement of the Rohingyas had been facilitated.
But there is no denying that the Rohingya repatriation issue is becoming a complex one for Bangladesh. Day by day Rohingyas are becoming a burden for Bangladesh and hence, Bangladesh is facing with multidimensional problems. The Rohingya crisis, far from being solved, is intensifying instead.
Bangladesh is already a populous country. In a populous country like Bangladesh, more than 1.1 million Rohingyas are now stuck like a heavy rock. On top of that, the population in the Rohingya camps is increasing at an alarming rate. We have to look at the statistics in order to understand the precariousness of this population growth. According to a UNICEF press release on October 23, 2017, the number of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, including new arrivals from Myanmar, is about 1.2 million. Among them 720,000 are under 18 years of age. 450,000 of them are aged 4 to 18 years. At that time, it was necessary to give extra nutritious food to 120,000 pregnant mothers and sick women. Referring to the situation till May of last year, another press release of UNICEF informed that an average of 60 Rohingya children are being born in the refugee camp of Cox's Bazar every day.
According to the data collected by BRAC volunteers during the two weeks of February 28 to March 13 of this year, the number of pregnant women in those one lakh families was more than 8000. As noted in various UNICEF reports and circulars, the Rohingya have no legal identity or citizenship in Myanmar. The births of the Rohingya children born in Bangladesh are not registered either. This is because they do not have any valid identity and neither do they have refugee status. Naturally, the number of children will increase as time goes by. A complicated situation will arise out of their citizenship. Since they have no legal identity in Myanmar, Myanmar will not want to take these children back. On the other hand, it will not be possible to legally register their birth in Bangladesh. The reinstatement crisis of the Rohingya will only intensify with the constant birth of children.
While dealing with the pressure of these Rohingyas, Bangladesh also has to pay a high price in terms of the environment. Bangladesh is facing an environmental crisis. According to the information of Cox's Bazar Forest Division (South), after the genocide in Myanmar in August 2017, the country's Rohingyas took shelter in the mountains of UkhiyarKutupalong, Balukhali, TannimaranKhola, Makkararbil or Hakimpara, JamtaliBagghona, Shafiullah Kata and Putibuniya and Kerantali Forest Divisions in Teknaf. This has resulted in 6200 acres of social and natural forests being destroyed.
The report presented at the eighth meeting of the Standing Committee on Environment, Forests and Climate Change says Rohingyas deforested 1,835 acres of forest area outside the camp area for fuel collection, including 580 acres of created forest and 1,257 acres of natural forest. The total area of destroyed forest is over 8000 acres and the total amount of loss including forest products and biodiversity is 2 thousand 420 crores 67 lakh taka in Bangladesh currency.
A study by UNDP on environmental impact revealed that Rohingya settlements had caused a total of 11 types of damage in the Ukhia and Teknaf areas. As a result of giving shelter to the Rohingyas for humanitarian reasons, we have faced a terrible environmental disaster. These environmental risks will continue to increase as time passes. At some point, this damage will become impossible to deal with.
The direct risk that Bangladesh has to face is security related. Activities of militant organizations have developed around the Rohingya camps in Cox's Bazar. A web of militancy is spreading in the camps with the money coming from six countries including the Middle East and Pakistan. Members of these militant organizations are also involved in counterfeiting money and drug business. Among the activities of militant organizations that one has come to know about with the help of mass media are the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO), IslamiMahaj and Jamiutul Mujahideen, Al-Yakinu etc. is notable.
In addition to that, recently another shocking incident has come up in the media. That is, Rohingya terrorist Nabi Hossain is planning to form a separate "State" with the Rohingyas in Bangladesh. Imagine how dangerous a security risk these Rohingya terrorists are trying to put Bangladesh in!
Heads of state and leading diplomats have made big promises about resolving the Rohingya issue: Was the purpose of those statements to solve the problem or to boost their media image? Can the United Nations avoid responsibility for not solving the Rohingya crisis?
A small country like Bangladesh is showing extreme humanity on the Rohingya issue despite hundreds of hurdles. But now is the time for the world to stop talking and take effective action on Rohingya reinstatement. The United Nations should also take effective steps and give utmost importance to the return of these Rohingyas. If not, the effectiveness of the United Nations as an organization will be questioned one day.
(The author is a PhD student of criminology, at the University of Manchester, UK. Views are personal. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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