Rohingyas continue to battle uncertain future in Bangladesh camps

Dhaka, Aug 24: Hafez Ullah had fled Myanmar in early September last year, following the torching of his village near the Maungdaw township in northern Rakhine by the Army.

On Friday, it will be a day shy of one year when the Rohingya exodus to neighbouring Bangladesh had begun after the Myanmar Army launched an offensive in response to rebel attacks on government outposts. But the situation facing the refugees in Bangladesh has changed little.

Ullah was one of the 700,000 Rohingyas, who had fled to Bangladesh following the offensive that was launched on August 25.

The 38-year-old, whose mother went missing and his brother was shot dead during the perilous six-day journey to Bangladesh, now lives in the Kutupalang refugee camp in Bangladesh, completely dependent on charity handouts, Efe news reported.

However, despite the dire situation in the camps, he is loathe to go back yet.

I don’t want to live here for long because I am really concerned about the future of my children. I want to go back, but only if I am assured I will not have to come back again and I will be given my rights as a citizen, he said.

International pressure had led Myanmar — which does not recognize Rohingyas as its citizens — and Bangladesh to ink a deal on November 23 to repatriate members of the mostly-Muslim Rohingya minority.

According to the deal between Myanmar and Bangladesh, the repatriation process should have started on January 23.

However, nine months down the line, the process is still in limbo, with UNHCR and other aid agencies alleging that the condition in Myanmar was not conducive to the return of the Rohingyas.

We do not believe that circumstances at present are conducive for return and any return has to be in safety, with dignity and on a voluntary basis, said Firas Al-Khateeb, the UN refugee agency’s spokesman in Cox’s Bazar.

And while the exodus was contained in recent months, the refugee camps continue to be overcrowded and a health hazard, especially for children.

The World Health Organization in its latest health bulletin on Rohingya camp in June reported 7,682 diphtheria case-patients as on June 2, with a total of 42 deaths till April 9.

The number of suspected diphtheria cases reached almost 8,000 now. Though we don’t have any death since April in the disease, every week we are getting 25-30 suspected case. We could not control it yet, said Abdus Salam, the chief government health official in Cox’s Bazar district.

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