More than 6,000 members of Myanmar’s Rohingya ethnic minority are living “in extremely risky and deplorably squalid conditions” on tidal river flats in Bangladesh, whose Government has so far not replied to urgent international appeals to move them to safer ground, the United Nations refugee agency said today.
“They are extremely vulnerable to seasonal high tides, flooding and cyclones during the monsoon season,” UN High Commissioner for Refuges (UNHCR) spokesperson Marie-Hélène Verney told a news briefing in Geneva. “There is no water or sanitation at the site, creating a health hazard.”
UNHCR, the European Commission and diplomats from five donor countries last week completed an emergency mission to the Teknaf region in south-eastern Bangladesh to see for themselves the Rohingyas’ plight. Another 20,500 Rohingyas are registered in two Government-run camps south of Cox's Bazar town in the same area.
During a refugee exodus in the early 1990s, some 250,000 Rohingyas fled by foot or boat and were sheltered in 20 camps. More than 235,000 have since repatriated, leaving those in the camps. The Teknaf group formed two and a half years ago after the Bangladeshi Government moved some 3,600 Rohingyas from nearby villages where they had been living for up to 10 years and has been growing as more Rohingyas facing problems with local communities have moved to the area.
“The Teknaf group of Rohingyas are people of concern to UNHCR, as they fled Myanmar for the same reasons of persecution as the refugees in the camps who came here in a big influx in 1991-1992,” UNHCR representative in Bangladesh Christopher Lee, said. “The only difference is that these Rohingyas were living outside the camps, or arrived after a 1994 cut-off date for prima facie refugee status, so they were not registered.”
But the Government and the local authorities consider the group illegal immigrants and say they should return to Myanmar. The European Commission has said it will provide emergency humanitarian assistance for water and sanitation once the group is moved to safer ground.