Red Cross warns of ‘serious problems’ with Bangladesh island housing Rohingya refugees



South Asia Red Cross Society cites lack of security after fire near border with Myanmar.

Red Cross warns of ‘serious problems’ with Bangladesh island housing Rohingya refugees

A Bangladeshi official has told the UN refugee agency that thousands of new Rohingya refugees have been forced to flee their homes amid fears of communal violence in the district of Cox’s Bazar.

On Friday, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Bangladesh warned that new waves of Rohingya refugees were expected to arrive over the next few days after fires tore through settlements on the border with Myanmar this week.

The Bangladeshi Red Cross Society said 2,000 new Rohingya families arrived in the town of Teknaf by the end of Friday and up to 150,000 may still be arriving as a result of ongoing violence and “the deterioration of the security situation”.

“The situation on the ground is serious and there is a real risk of communal violence worsening,” the South Asia Red Cross Society said.

The secretary general of the Bangladesh Red Cross Society, Uqbahuddin, told the Guardian that the fires were preventable.

“Even the fire fighters who came in were forced to flee when the violence began,” he said. “There is a lot of landlessness there, a lot of used tyres and there is tension at the border.”

Nearly 270,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar over the past few months, setting up settlements on the borders of Bangladesh. There are fears that as many as 300,000 could soon be in the region, heightening concerns of humanitarian and security problems.

John Ging, the director of operations for the UN children’s agency, Unicef, said there were “alarming” conditions on the Bangladeshi side of the border.

“The situation for the more than 300,000 people currently displaced by the current violence is extremely difficult, and humanitarian needs have dramatically increased,” he said.

Tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees have taken shelter in Cox’s Bazar, waiting to return to Myanmar and some have been in Bangladesh for more than a year.

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According to Uqbahuddin, many of the refugees have to eat a limited ration of food and the donations are being exhausted.

“Many Rohingya families had their homes burnt out. Those who can afford to return to their homes have returned but many are staying in Bangladesh for fear of further violence,” he said.

On Wednesday, the Bangladesh government said it was prepared to accept tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees.

The UN’s top refugee official, Filippo Grandi, told a news conference in Geneva that he had asked for a more immediate relocation of Rohingya refugees from Cox’s Bazar to camps in other areas of Bangladesh.

“We need to increase our efforts immediately on the ground and I am very optimistic that it will happen,” he said.

Later, a state minister in Bangladesh said that less than 10,000 of the more than a quarter-million people displaced by the violence had chosen to go back to Myanmar, and that the government would not accept more.

The Bangladeshi foreign minister, Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali, told reporters that he was confident that his government could keep pace with the demand for housing and basic services.

Myanmar says the violence provoked by attacks by Rohingya insurgents on 30 police posts and an army base in August was “measured”.

Many Rohingya have been driven from their homes by the crackdown, which Myanmar’s military says was necessary to root out militants who attacked border posts, killing nine policemen. The UN and human rights groups have said troops and police may have committed atrocities, including mass rape and killings.

The latest trouble in Rakhine State erupted two weeks ago after Rohingya militants killed 12 border guards, and the response from the security forces was so severe that arson swept through villages.

The US and its western allies have stepped up criticism of the Myanmar government, led by Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, over the crackdown.

The Myanmar leader is barred from the presidency but remains the de facto leader, and has come under increasing pressure from the UN, the US and others over the crisis.

Asked about international pressure on her government, she said it did not bother her and she could act accordingly to protect the population.

“[International pressure] is very important but I am trying to solve this problem inside. Sometimes the pressure is too much,” she said.

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