Bangladesh: UN agency seeks solution for 6,000 Myanmar refugees facing eviction

Bangladesh: UN agency seeks solution for 6,000 Myanmar refugees facing eviction

Settlement in Teknaf (Bangladesh)
The United Nations refugee agency is working with the Bangladeshi government, donors and partners to find more permanent housing for some 6,000 Muslim refugees from Myanmar whose riverbed settlement is threatened by a crackdown on illegal structures.

The United Nations refugee agency is working with the Bangladeshi government, donors and partners to find more permanent housing for some 6,000 Muslim refugees from Myanmar whose riverbed settlement is threatened by a crackdown on illegal structures.

“These people are of concern to us and we want to help them,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) country representative Pia Prytz Phiri said of the settlement, which perches perilously beside a busy road in Teknaf, 75 kilometres south of Cox’s Bazar in south-east Bangladesh.

“It is hard to imagine human beings living in much more deplorable conditions than those in Teknaf. We understand why the government doesn’t want them living there, but to move them without having prepared any solution in advance is not very humane,” she added.

The refugees, regarded by the Government as illegal migrants rather than legitimate refugees, set up the camp in October 2004, nearly two years after they had been evicted from rented homes in nearby villages in an earlier crackdown, “simply because we are Myanmarese,” according to one camp dweller.

UNHCR has not been allowed to help them, except to distribute some plastic sheeting last year. The medical non-governmental organization (NGO), Médecins Sans Frontières-Holland, was recently allowed to open a health clinic there.

The refugees’ homes are flimsy structures of bamboo, plastic sheets and flattened cement bags on muddy ground, where as many as 16 people crowd together in a room slightly larger than a garden shed. For fully half of each month, the refugees said, high tides flood nearly all shacks, bring disease, and some children have even drowned. Women spend much of their time repairing the mud foundations of the huts.

Ms. Phiri said a solution needed to be found but “what we don't want to do is to set up a formal camp.” UNHCR agency already runs two official camps south of Cox’s Bazar housing some 26,000 refugees and UNHCR sub-office head Jim Worrall suggested that the simplest step would be to allow the Teknaf refugees “just to go back to the villages where they were living peacefully with local people before 2004.”