Report on refugee camp conditions in Bangladesh

While the focus in western Europe is often concentrated on migration near or through its own borders, elsewhere in the world climate and conflict have been internally displacing millions of people, many of whom have been forced to flee to other countries.

The Washington Post carries a report about Mohammad Ilias, a Rohingya Muslim refugee who escaped from Burma after its security forces began burning down his village at the end of August.

Almost half of the 436,000 Rohingya who have fled a scorched-earth campaign by the Burmese military over the past month now live in and around Balukhali [in Balgladesh] and the tent city grows by the minute. They are part of the most rapid exodus from any country since the Rwandan genocide in 1994. The sudden crush of nearly half a million people has left Bangladesh’s government, aid agencies and refugees themselves totally overwhelmed.

The report paints a picture of a vast tented city being constructed on 2,000 acres of land set that has been set aside to keep the refugees from making their home in already overcrowded cities in Bangladesh.

Roads and other infrastructure are being built for a camp that is likely to become a medium to long term home for Rohimullah and his family. Rohingya adjoins the neighbouring Kutupalong camp that houses 200,000 or more Rohingya who fled similar ethnic violence back in the early 1990s.

Twenty five year old Rohimullah had reached the camp after an exhausting five days carrying his mother in law. “We’re safe now” he says. “It just keeps hitting me that we’ve made it, and we’re in Bangladesh.”

Conditions and supplies are inadequate in the camp.

Only about a fifth of the new arrivals have received an official food ration, which consists of rice and fortified biscuits. Aid agencies warn that existing water sources could be drained dry in just a few months. Nearly 100,000 children have no school to attend and are instead helping their families fight for whatever aid they can get.

Bangladeshi civic and religious organisations are responding to the desperate situation are actively donating and distributing goods to the refugees (though their well-meaning efforts are complicating the UN agencies work on the site).

Kate White is emergency medical coordinator for Doctors Without Borders. She described the settlements as “essentially rural slums” with a lack of road and a “a complete absence of latrines”.

Nearly every refugee interviewed by The Washington Post said their home had been burned down. Some recounted killings and gang rapes. Peter Bouckaert, Human Rights Watch’s emergency director, tweeted Friday that stories of atrocities he’d heard firsthand were “so terrible my notebook is stained [with] tears.”

Investigations suggests that land mines have laid along roads in Rohingya villages, thwarting any hope of a quick return.

The local government aid coordinator in Balukhali said: “I don’t think it is even possible to understand the scale we are dealing with so suddenly … We are sorry for them, of course … But we must consider them as temporarily in Bangladesh, not permanently. I cannot say how long they will stay. Until that time, we will have to feed them. There is no other way.”

Read the full report in The Washington Post.