Thousands of Rohingya refugees sleeping under the open sky in Ukhiaya and Teknaf upzilas of Cox’s Bazar . It was as if the bare fields of these areas had become a sprawling bed for them. As darkness descended, every bit of space was occupied by a sleeping Rohingya or someone waiting to find some space. Open spaces by the roadside, on hill slopes, in jungles and farm yards were full with the newly arrived refugees.
Till about 4am, this correspondent visited Ukhiya, Balukhali, Thang Khali, Palong Khali, Whykong, Unchiprang, Raikhion, and Kanjarpara areas.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas, mostly women, children and old people, were found sleeping in the open on both sides of roads, hill slopes and croplands.
Abdul Malek, 60, hailing from Maungdaw, was found preparing to sleep with seven members of his family on a hill slope in Thangkhali next to the Cox’s Bazar-Teknaf highway.
“We entered Bangladesh territory through the Shahporirdwip corridor by boat. After halting for four days at Shahpoirirdwip, we reached the Balukhali refugee camp on Sunday.
But we found no place there and thus are staying in the open,” he said. There were about 200–250 people sleeping on the hill slope. When asked whether he and his family had anything to eat, Abdul said: “We’ve come here to save our lives as the military and local Buddhists are carrying out brutal torture on us. Here we’re living under the open sky, tormented by mosquitoes and other insects.”
Nearby, at Thankhali, four children, aged between three and 11 years, slept huddled together. Their mother, Hasina Begum, sat wide awake, trying to drive away mosquitoes and insets.
“The military picked up my husband. He was imprisoned for four years. Later, they burned our homes. I fled to save the lives of my sons. We’re staying here for the past five days,” she said.
Like Malek and Hasina, thousands of Rohingyas, who fled the recent violence in Myanmar, are still living in the open without any shelter, food and sanitation. They are forced to answer nature’s calls in the fields. A stink of human excreta fills the air all along the 86-km-long road.
Following coordinated attacks on over two dozen border guard police outposts and an army base, the Myanmar army began a crackdown, which they described as a drive against extremists. The operation has so far led to the killing of an estimated 3,000 people, with an unknown number being injured and hundreds being arrested in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
It has also resulted in about 350,000 people crossing the border into Bangladesh in search of safety. As 400,000 Rohingyas have already been living in Cox’s bazaar for a long time, an additional 350,000 refugees have put enormous pressure on local resources and the administration.
A dramatic increase in the number of refugees fleeing violence in Myanmar’sRakhine state had exhausted the limited capacity in the refugee camps. The new arrivals are squatting in makeshift shelters that have mushroomed along the road and on available land in Ukhiya and Teknaf areas, said UNHCR in a statement.
“There is limited space, but the number of Rohingyas is about 7.5 lakh. So, they have scattered to different areas. The government will shift all these refugees under one roof at a nearby camp in Balukhaliu,” Khaled Mahmud, additional district magistrate of Cox’s Bazar, told The Independent yesterday.