HRW urges Bangladesh to relocate Rohingya refugee camps

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Bangkok, Aug 6 (IANS) Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Monday urged the Bangladesh government to relocate the makeshift camps where more than 7,00,000 Rohingya refugees have been living in overcrowded conditions for over an year.

Members of the ethnic minority fled across the border following an offensive launched by the Myanmar Army on August 25 last year in Rakhine state after Rohingya rebels carried out a series of attacks on government security outposts.

The situation of “severe overcrowding” heightens the risk of “diseases, fires and increased community tensions, as well as domestic and sexual violence,” warned HRW refugee rights director Bill Frelick at the launch of the report “Bangladesh is not my Country: The plight of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar” in Bangkok, Efe news reported.

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With the onset of the monsoon rains, the threat of floods and landslides in the refugee shelters of Katupalong-Balukhali near the Myanmar border has increased.

According to Frelick, experts have identified six viable relocation sites that could accommodate 2,63,000 people.

These sites, spread across more than 5.26 square kilometres, are located near where the Rohinyas are currently based, he said.

Frelick said Bangladesh insists the situation is temporary, so it prevents the construction of permanent structures.

Bangladesh plans to relocate 1,00,000 Rohingyas to an uninhabited island, Bhasan Char.

The artificial island is not suitable for accommodating people due to the risk of it being completely flooded by the arrival of a cyclone, among other problems such as the lack of land for cultivation or aquifers, experts have said.

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Last week, Myanmar set up a new commission to investigate reports of human rights violations allegedly committed by the military against the Rohingyas.

At the report launch, Phil Robertson, deputy director of HRW’s Asia division, charged that not much can be expected from the commission as some of its members have publicly rejected any violation by the Army.

International organisations including the United Nations have reported killings, torture, rapes and looting and burning of houses among other crimes allegedly committed by the Army.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has described the campaign as ethnic cleansing with suspected acts of genocide.

Myanmar considers the Rohingyas illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and subjects them to various restrictions, including limiting their freedom of movement.

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Myanmar and Bangladesh signed an agreement in November 2017 for the repatriation of the Rohingyas, according to which the refugees should have started their return to Myanmar on January 23.

Frelick said that the repatriation will not take place anytime soon.

–IANS

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