Hundreds of thousands Rohingya are rescuing from Myanmar to impoverished neighboring Bangladesh. There one is not up to the crowd and is considering drastic measures.
Actually, Bangladesh already has enough problems: just the country has the worst flood disaster of the past 40 years behind it. Around one-third of the country was flooded, says the International Red Cross, and more than 700,000 homes have been destroyed.
The damage caused by this natural disaster is far from being resolved, as the next crisis over the impoverished country is already breaking in: Almost every day, around 10,000 fleeing Rohingya from Myanmar come across the border, many of whom are traumatized or injured. Initially, Bangladesh’s government tried to stop the refugees – but given the crowd was abandoned the project.
In recent years, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have been rescued to the neighboring country, estimates reaching up to 500,000. But never before have so many newcomers arrived in one fell swoop. Since August 25, at least another 370,000 refugees have reached Bangladesh, according to the United Nations. Slowly, there should not be many members of the Muslim minority in Buddhist Myanmar. Almost a whole nation is now looking for a new home, and many are hoping for Bangladesh.
However, the government there is not interested in taking in the refugees in the long term. As head of government Sheikh Hasina visited one of the camps this week, she patted the cheeks of dozens of Rohingya women, comforting. On the other hand, the prime minister also made it clear that the refugees were welcome only in the short term. Instead, Myanmar should establish a protection zone for the Muslim minority, thus enabling a return of the refugees.
About one million Rohingya live in the Rakhine region of Myanmar.
A country of origin becomes a sanctuary
However, given Myanmar’s radical crackdown on the Rohingya, their chances of returning home are at least as low as they have been in years. The United Nations Human Rights Commissioner, Raad al-Hussein, even called the actions of the Myanmar security forces “ethnic cleansing”.
So the Rohingya flee to the west. But because there is no longer any room left in the camps of the border region, the refugees now settle wherever they find a vacancy. With tarpaulins they protect themselves from the recurrent monsoon, some even found refuge with the local population. “Most newcomers live in temporary quarters or in Bangladeshi villages that generously share the few resources they own,” says Adrian Edwards, spokesman for the UNHCR refugee agency.
Although international aid is starting up, there is the increasing concern in Bangladesh that the biggest burden will probably be borne by them. Yet the country does not have much: With a per capita income of around 1,300 US dollars, the state is one of the poorest countries in the world. One-third of the population lives below the poverty line. The living conditions are so bad that many locals even flee themselves. Despite the huge distance to Europe, the EU’s border organization Frontex makes Bangladeshis the second largest group of people who come to Italy via the Mediterranean as refugees.
Now the country of origin itself becomes a haven: The Bangladeshi economist Ashikur Rahman expects an additional burden of about one billion US dollars for his home country. The scientist at the Policy Research Institute in the capital Dhaka urges the international community to pay for the sum. “Otherwise, it will severely impact our own development program,” he told the local press.
There is hardly any room left in Bangladesh
However, Rahman’s bill is based on the fact that Bangladesh actually provides the refugees with dignity. In recent years, however, the government has been less than generous with refugees. Even before the recent outbreak of violence in Myanmar, human rights organizations complained of terrible conditions and malnutrition in the camps and the makeshift settlements all around. At the same time, the government repeatedly obstructed the work of aid organizations – fearing that otherwise more refugees could be lured. The Rohingya are not allowed to earn money, and only a fraction of the children can go to school.
In addition to money, Bangladesh also lacks space. Hardly any other country is more densely populated: according to the World Bank, an average of around 1,200 Bangladeshi live on a square kilometer – most of them are farmers who need arable land. The Germans have about five times as much space per inhabitant.
Settlement plans for an inhospitable island
Bangladesh’s government is now considering a radical move: several members of the Cabinet have voted to locate the refugees on the uninhabited 30,000-acre island of Thengar Char in the Bay of Bengal. The plan is not new, for the first time in 2015, the government was thinking aloud about it. But because of massive protests from abroad, he has initially rejected again.
In the face of numerous newcomers, the project is now back on the agenda. But the island plan has several hooks: The first appeared in 2006 island is considered inhospitable and is regularly flooded. Despite the lack of space on the mainland, no Bangladeshi has yet come up with the idea of settling there voluntarily. With the motorboat takes about two hours to get to the next settlement. Phil Robertson, Vice President of Human Rights Watch, expects a “humanitarian catastrophe” in the event of a real resettlement to the island. Even foreign diplomats repeatedly criticized the plans.
But while foreign countries call on Bangladesh to show more mercy, it does not seem to be helpful. Of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya from Bangladesh, only a few thousand have been officially accepted in other countries in recent years. Some states have very different plans: just last month, India’s government announced plans to deport around 40,000 Rohingya refugees.