The number of Rohingya refugees crossing into Bangladesh spiked up during the last two days with the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) yesterday saying at least 10,000 Rohingyas have arrived in Bangladesh.
However, unofficial sources said around 30,000 more Rohingyas are waiting in the hills and jungles of Myanmar to cross the border in the face of violence in their home country.
The UN refugee agency spokeswoman in Bangkok, Vivian Tan, told the media that at least 10,000 Rohingya have arrived in Bangladesh in recent weeks, fleeing violence in neighbouring Myanmar.
“Based on reports by various humanitarian agencies, we estimate that there could be 10,000 new arrivals in recent weeks,” she said, adding, “The situation is fast changing and the actual number could be much higher.”
The Myanmar army has carried out a bloody crackdown in the western state of Rakhine, forcing some 30,000 people to flee their homes and look for refuge in Bangladesh. Talking to The Independent a source with the UNHCR in Cox’s Bazar said, “Over 10,000 Rohingyas have infiltrated into Bangladesh and taken shelter in the two unregistered Rohingya camps in Ukhiya and Teknaf.”
The source said, “Around 30,000 people have lost their homes in the recent crackdown by the Myanmar military forces. Along with these homeless people, another 20,000 are also trying to flee the country in fear of further attacks.
“32 Rohingya neighbourhoods in Myanmar were affected in the military crackdown. The troops burnt down at least 17 Rohingya-dominated neigh bourhoods in Rakhine state of Myanmar,” the source added.
Meanwhile, the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) was found checking all vehicles along the border. It has set up temporary check-posts in different areas near the Rohingya refugee camps. Yet, the Rohingyas seemed to be everywhere in Teknaf and Ukhiya upazilas yesterday morning—in trucks, pick-up vans, and CNG-run auto-rickshaws.
Ali Hossain, deputy commissioner of Cox’s Bazar district, said, “Infiltration has suddenly increased since Monday night. We cannot control the flow of people sneaking into Bangladesh. However, on humanitarian grounds, we are giving them some aid if they are being halted by the BGB (Border Guard Bangladesh).”
Some of the infiltrators The Independent team spoke to said they were desperate. Most of them were hiding for a long time in the forests and hills on the Myanmar border, which led them to starve.
This correspondent saw over 100 Rohingyas sneak into Bangladesh yesterday night at Whykong, where Bangladesh has a 270km-long border with Myanmar. Around 9.10pm, a 37-member group of Rohingyas crossed over. The group had 14 children below the age of seven and 12 women.
All the members were from Kheariprang in Myanmar. The village was burnt down in the second week of October. They took shelter in the forests and hills. After a 40-day journey, they could finally sneak into Bangladesh. They took shelter in the house of a Whykong resident.
The home owner was seen giving them water, bananas, and dry food. He said he was helping them on “humanitarian grounds”.
Nur Khida, 20, was one of the group members. Her husband and father are expatriates to Saudi Arabia. She said they had starved for 40 days in the forest. They were even forced to eat leaves to survive. “The troops killed my bother and torched our house,” she said.
For the last four days, they were waiting in the house of a middleman called Ayub on the Myanmar border. After paying him, they managed to finally enter Bangladesh.
Ambia Khatun, 21, said, “The troops killed my husband and tortured us. When they torched my house, I somehow escaped with our one-year-old son.”
Around 11pm, they left for the Leda refugee camp on a truck.
Around 12.10am, this correspondent found another group comprising 17 members in the house of a local resident. They said they were starving and had no option but to beg for food at this house. Many of them were women and children.
Nur Kalam, 25, said they were waiting at Totardwip for the last 10 days for a chance to enter Bangladesh. Driven by hunger, the group crossed the Naf river, dodging the BGB.
This correspondent had spoken to another group of 41 members waiting on a truck at Whykong around 11.15pm on Tuesday night. The group had 17 children and 12 women.
Johura Khatun, 55, told The Independent they were waiting in the Jhimonkhali forest for the last 15 days to infiltrate into Bangladesh. Three days ago, they finished whatever little food they had managed to secure. They entered a home in Bangladesh and took some food from it before leaving for the Leda camp.
Around 7.30am yesterday, the BGB detained 13 Rohingyas, including seven children. “We have stopped five boats from infiltrating into Bangladesh in the last 24 hours. To prevent infiltration, we have intensified our vigilance,” said Lt Col Abuzar Al Zahid, commander of the BGB Teknaf Battalion (II).
A flag meeting was held yesterday between BGB and the Myanmarese Border Guard Police (BGP) at Naikhanchari in Bandarban district. Following the meeting, Col M M Anisur Rahman, deputy region commander, said, “We expressed our deep concern over the infiltration issue. The BGP assured us they are continuing crackdowns against terrorists. The crisis will end soon.”