BANGLADESH'S announcement that it will move two camps housing some 30,000 officially documented Rohingya refugees has heightened anxieties among the Muslim minority, who fled persecution in neighbouring Myanmar. Observers applaud the possibility of improving camp conditions, but are concerned the move could also increase insecurity.
On 6 November, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, in a meeting with the Disaster Management and Relief Ministry, said the camps would be moved to a "better location", which was later described by her press secretary as a larger space. The prime minister reportedly acknowledged that the current camp conditions were "inhumane".
But in the two registered camps jointly administered by the government of Bangladesh and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) - Kutupalong and Nayapara - details remain murky and distrust high as resident Rohingyas have faced decades of ill-treatment in Bangladesh. "We are worried and confused about the government move to shift the camps," Mohammad Ismail, secretary of Kutupalong refugee camp, told IRIN. "If the relocation is to better places, we welcome the move as we are leading a miserable life here. But we can't be sure."
UNHCR says there are 200,000 to 500,000 Rohingyas in Bangladesh, of whom only 32,355 are documented and living in the two camps, both within 2km of Myanmar. Most live in informal settlements or towns and cities in what Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) described as "deplorable conditions".
According to UNHCR, the Cox's Bazar camps are overcrowded and a move to avoid congestion is welcome. However, Stina Ljungdell, UNHCR country representative in Bangladesh, told : "An actual move of the camps would entail substantial financial commitments which may be hard to secure during a time when UNHCR is facing multiple crises and more displaced people than ever, all over the world."
"The refugees are already in a vulnerable condition. The government should not do anything that can make them more vulnerable," said CR Abrar, coordinator of the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU) at Dhaka University, explaining that the relocation announcement has created anxieties among the refugees. He argued: "If the government wants to relocate, it must ensure that the refugees get all the facilities they are getting now."
Rohingya camp and community leaders confirmed to IRIN that they have received no official communication from the government about the move. Unregistered Rohingyas, who live in squalid informal settlements near the registered camps, are concerned they may be left behind.
"If the government shifts the camps, they will shift the registered camps. Where will we go then?" Abdul Hafez, chairman of the non-registered Rohingya committee in Kutupalong camp, told IRIN. Around 42,000 unregistered Rohingyas live next to the Kutupalong refugee camp in appalling conditions. According to UNHCR, for much of their stay in Bangladesh (in some cases decades), unregistered Rohingyas have borrowed food rations from registered camp residents, resulting in malnutrition among both groups. UNHCR told IRIN that, as far as it was aware, the current government plans do not include any consideration of unregistered refugees.
-COMPILED BY LAW DESK. (IRINNEW.ORG)