By George Gourlay | Contributor
“When it is night, it becomes hell” the words of a refugee currently situated in a Bangladeshi camp hosting Rohingya Muslims who have fled persecution in Myanmar. Now across the border, they face new unrest as gang warfare and drug trafficking within the camps has emerged. The developing situation has already resulted in seven deaths this week and caused hundreds to flee the refugee camps, venturing into Bangladesh towards an uncertain future.
The Rohingya refugee crisis began in 2015 following the forced removal of the minority Muslim population from their homes across Myanmar into the country’s Rakhine state where an estimated 130,000 now reside. Over a million refugees have crossed the border into Bangladesh where the recent crisis is now emerging.
Drug trafficking is underway in many of the camps. The rise in popularity of the Myanmar-produced methamphetamine “yaba” has escalated tensions between rival gangs and has caused an addiction problem across Bangladesh since its introduction to the country. The Rohingya now bear additional prejudice from the Bangladeshi population, for whom the refugees are to blame for bringing the drug over the border.
In one week, seven refugees were killed in the crossfire between rival gangs and huts providing shelter to families have been torched. Those in the camps say the situation has become so violent because of the lack of monitoring by Bangladeshi authorities, some camps claim the guards also perpetuate the violence. The chaos has caused humanitarian agencies to withdraw from the camps, according to the UN Refugee Agency who also say that they have struggled to assist families fleeing the conflict.
Returning to Myanmar isn’t a viable option. Reports of malnutrition, beatings and sexual assault against women by guards in the Burmese refugee camps have led to accusations by human rights groups who have described them as “open prisons” (Human Rights Watch). Further accusations include claims of refugees being killed if they venture outside the walls of the camp.
The other alternative being discussed by Bangladeshi authorities is to move the refugees to the island of Bhasan Char in the Bay of Bengal. 300 have already been moved here, many of the women have made claims of sexual abuse by the guards.
The future of the Rohingya Refugees
As of this week, the future of the Rohingya rests in the hands of the political authorities of Myanmar, Bangladesh and China, the latter of which has proposed to mediate talks between the three nations to discuss the potential repatriation of the Rohingya back to Rakhine. Myanmar currently does not consider them to be citizens.
Despite Bangladesh’s calls for Myanmar’s leader and state counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi, to be present during the talks, no such arrangement has been made. Suu Kyi is yet to even acknowledge what has been described as “ethnic cleansing” taking place at the border other than to voice a defence of the Burmese military against the allegation while on trial at The Hague in 2019.
Further pressures to resolve the issue have been applied by the Saudi government who have asked Bangladesh to afford the Rohingya living in Saudi Arabia Bangladeshi citizenship to curb the migration of refugees to Riyadh. This has raised fears amongst the 54,000 Rohingya in Saudi Arabia of deportation back to Bangladesh. The move would be disastrous for Bangladesh’s economy, already one of the poorest countries in the world.
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