By Rock Ronald Rozario and Stephan Uttom, Dhaka, Michael Sainsbury, Bangkok and John Zaw, MandalayUpdated: October 16, 2017 11:32 AM GMT
Rohingya refugees carry a woman after crossing the Naf River as they flee violence in Myanmar to reach Bangladesh in Palongkhali near Ukhia on Oct. 16. (Photo by AFP)
The makeshift refugee camps in Bangladesh face a fresh test, after at least 50,000 Rohingya flooded across the border from Myanmar’s north on Oct. 16.
New arrivals have reported continuing clearance operations by Myanmar security forces, that involve burning homes and businesses and violent acts against Rohingya, including rape and murder.
James Gomes, regional director of Caritas Chittagong is now at Ukhiya, Cox's Bazar. He told ucanews.com about the massive influx of Rohingya into Bangladesh through the Palongkhali area of Ukhiya.
"A massive influx of Rohingya from Rakhine into Cox's Bazar is going on. The number of Rohingya crossed into Bangladesh so far should not be less than 50,000. We can see the endless line of people pouring in, hungry and weak. We don't know yet why such a massive influx today while it about 400-500 over past few days," Gomes said.
However, some refugees are saying that while the military and local Buddhists are inflicting a terror campaign on the people, in some areas they are preventing them from leaving.
The number of Rohingya still left in northern Rakhine has dwindled to as few as 100,000 residents, senior members of the refugee camps said. There are now over 525,000 refugees in the camps, causing economic hardship for local Bengalis.
"Hundreds of Rohingya have been arriving every day for the past two weeks. Yesterday about 500 new refugees arrived in Kutupalong," said Abu Sayed, 45, a Rohingya community leader at Kutupalong Rohingya refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar on Oct. 14.
Sayed, who has been living in Bangladesh since 2000, estimated there are now 170,000 refugees in Kutupalong camp alone. Most of them have arrived since Aug. 25 when the Myanmar military launched an offensive after attacks by the militant separatist group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), on government border posts.
The United Nations reported that on Oct. 11 alone, 11,000 Rohingya crossed into Bangladesh.
Sayed said new refugees were reporting violent acts committed by the Myanmar military and the Moghs, ethnic local Buddhists, in Rakhine. "The Moghs are burning down Rohingya shops and markets after burning down their villages. So, they are facing a food crisis and starvation. They think they can survive if they can come to Bangladesh," Sayed said.
"Some refugees told me Moghs raid Rohingya houses at night, and grab women and young girls to rape. So those who are still stranded there are in a serious panic. They are looking for opportunities to cross the border into Bangladesh."
Nurul Amin, 32, moved to Bangladesh from Maungdaw in Rakhine on Sept. 22 with nine family members. He now resides in Kutupalong camp.
"Some of my relatives are trapped in Maungdaw and they want to flee to Bangladesh. But the military and Moghs patrol areas day and night, and they are threatening and restricting Rohingya from fleeing," Amin told ucanews.com.
Mahmud Saleem, a Rohingya from Mi Chaung Zay village in Buthidaung, said he saw fires early on the morning of Oct. 4, but he didn’t know who lit them.
He says more than 300 people from that village have fled as security forces interrogated them over whether they had links with ARSA.
"We still remain in the village, but we are living in fear. We have shortages of food, as rice and beans are only enough for a few more days," Saleem, a father of three, told ucanews.com. "We are also restricted from going from one village to another."
Ucanews.com couldn't independently verify the reports, as media and rights groups have been barred from accessing the region which is locked down by the
Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, an advocacy group for Rohingya, said they received daily reports of fires in villages in Buthidaung, especially abandoned dwellings.
"People lack food, have no jobs and they feel insecure, so those are the reasons for leaving the villages," Lewa told ucanews.com.
A.K.M Jahangir, a local politician and chairman of Ghumdhum Union Council in the Bandarban border district, said the Rohingya influx was ongoing.
He said Bangladesh could no longer shoulder the burden of so many refugees.
"Bangladesh, under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has shown great humanity by allowing Rohingya into the country. But how long can we shelter and feed them? We have our limits and we are under-resourced," he said.
The Rohingya crisis has had a disastrous impact in Ghumdhum area, he said.
"The price of daily essentials has jumped, our children are afraid to go to school and our roads have been ruined due to a large influx of Rohingya. There must be a solution to the Rohingya crisis urgently and they must be repatriated to Myanmar. Otherwise, Rohingya will gradually lose the sympathy of the Bangladeshi people."
Other problems are being caused by the deforestation of a massive tract of land to build the world’s largest refugee camp, intended to house 800,000 refugees. On Oct. 11, four refugees were trampled to death by elephants who roam the site.
Health care fears also continue to rise, as the wet season continues. A massive cholera immunization campaign by the World Health Organisation (WHO) began on Oct. 10 near Cox's Bazar aimed at protecting Rohingya and local communities.