| The Daily Star
12:00 AM, January 10, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:26 AM, January 10, 2017

Rohingya slum sprouts on forest department land

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A new slum for the Rohingyas who entered Bangladesh from Myanmar illegally is being set up in the reserved area of forest department near Balukhali village under Ukhia upazila in Cox's Bazar.

Already, there are three such Rohingya slums in the bordering Ukhia and Teknaf upazilas of the district. Locally called “Rohingya Tal”, these slums house about one lakh illegal Rohingyas.

The new slum is about one kilometre west of Paan Bazar in Balukhali village of Palongkhali union in Ukhia and 3km south of the Kutupalong Rohingya slum in the upazila. 

During a visit on Saturday, this correspondent saw hundreds of Rohingyas were building shanties on the 250-acre government forest land.

About 500 shanties already mushroomed there and 5,000 Rohingya men and women took shelter in the last few days. 

Talking to The Daily Star, the Rohingyas said that after being evicted from Kutupalong, they came to this slum being set up with the backing of a local union parishad member.

Many were sitting along with their family members under the open sky or under the shade of trees. One of them is Anwara Begum, 20, who came from Maungdaw in Myanmar.

Her husband Shahab Miah was taken away by the Myanmar army.

Some Rohingyas clearing shrubberies in the area. Photo: Mohammad Ali Jinnat

Entering Bangladesh, she took shelter in the Kutupalong slum area along with her maternal uncle, taking her seven-month-old baby in her arms.  She spent a few nights in a shanty there.

A sobbing Anwara said she is at a loss as to where she can get a shelter now.

Laila Begum, 32, another woman from Maungdaw, crossed into Bangladesh through Tumbru border and took shelter at the Kutupalong slum with her four children -- Mariam, 7, Tahera, 5, Sohana, 4, and Rehana, 2.

She built a shanty with the money she had but got evicted by forest officials. She then took shelter on the forest land with the help of a union parishad member. 

No money is left with her now.

On Friday morning, Palongkhali UP Member Nurul Absar and some other locals divided the Balukhali slum into seven blocks. 

A “majhi” (sardar or leader) was appointed to oversee 50 to 60 families. Seven majhis were given the responsibility of managing seven blocks in the slum.

Karam Ali, majhi of block-1, and Khalilur Rahman of block-4 on Saturday said that in the last five days more than 5,000 Rohingyas had gathered at Kutupalong.

Many of these Rohingyas built shanties there. Evicted by forest department officials, they took shelter in the Balukhali forest area, the two added.

New shanties have sprung up on the encroached forest land. The photos were taken on Saturday. Photo: Mohammad Ali Jinnat

Contacted, Nurul Absar said, “If Kutupalong Rohingya slum can exist, what is the problem with having this slum? The Rohingyas have been allowed to stay here temporarily on humanitarian ground.”

Md Monirul Islam, an official of Ukhia Forest Range under Cox's Bazar South Forest Department, said Nurul Absar sheltered the Rohingyas on the forest land for personal gain. 

The higher authorities have been informed about the matter, he added. 

Gafur Uddin Chowdhury, chairman of Palongkhali Union Parishad, said if the government does not take action against those who are patronising undocumented Rohingyas, the situation will take a serious turn.

Locals said some NGOs are behind the setting up of the new Rohingya slum by grabbing forest land. The NGOs do not work directly; they use people like Nurul Absar.

Talking to this correspondent on Sunday, Cox's Bazar Deputy Commissioner Ali Hossain said the allegations against Nurul Absar are being looked into and steps will be taken based on the findings.

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