Rohingya crisis: Bangladesh plans huge camps for refugees

A Bangladeshi border guard stands guard at the Jalpatoli refugee camp for Rohingya Muslims near Gumdhum village in Ukhia, 16 SeptemberImage copyright AFP
Image caption Bangladeshi security forces are already guarding Rohingya camps near the border

The Bangladeshi government has announced plans to build shelters for up to 400,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing from neighbouring Myanmar.

The army and aid agencies are due to erect 14,000 shelters, each housing six families, near the city of Cox’s Bazar.

Since late August over 400,000 Rohingya are thought to have fled to Bangladesh, to escape a government offensive.

The UN says Myanmar’s operation could amount to ethnic cleansing.

Rights groups have accused the military of burning Rohingya villages.

But the army says it is responding to attacks by militants and denies it is targeting civilians.

Meanwhile, a fresh diplomatic row between Bangladesh and Myanmar has broken out over alleged violations of Bangladeshi airspace in the past week.

What else do we know of the planned new shelters?

According to a report in Bangladesh’s Daily Star newspaper, the new shelters will be on a site covering about 8 sq km (3 sq miles) of land, close to established camps which have been overwhelmed by arrivals from Myanmar.

A total of 8,500 temporary toilets will be built and 14 “makeshift warehouses” will be set up near the shelters, the paper says.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Many Rohingya refugees live in improvised camps

The government hopes that there will be enough places for 400,000 people, AFP news agency reports, quoting Bangladesh’s disaster management secretary, Shah Kama. It is meant to be built within 10 days.

A rubella and polio vaccination campaign for the many refugee children reportedly started on Saturday morning.

Why are the Rohingya fleeing?

People who fled from Myanmar’s Rakhine state to Bangladesh told the BBC earlier this month about killings, rape and even massacres, while inside Rakhine, a BBC crew witnessed charred homes inside Rakhine.

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Media captionThe BBC’s Jonathan Head is on a government-organised trip in Rakhine state

On Friday, HRW released a report in which it accused the military of an “ethnic cleansing campaign” – words which echo those used by UN human rights chief Zeid Raad Al Hussein on Monday.

It detailed scores of villages targeted with arson attacks.

“Our field research backs what the satellite imagery has indicated – that the Burmese military is directly responsible for the mass burning of Rohingya villages in northern Rakhine State,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director.

“The United Nations and member countries should urgently impose measures on the Burmese government to stop these atrocities and end the forced flight of Rohingya from Burma.”

The UN Security Council has already appealed to Myanmar to stop the violence but no sanctions have been imposed.

What do the authorities say?

Myanmar’s envoy to the UN has blamed the Rohingya insurgents for the violence in Rakhine state and said that his country would never tolerate such atrocities.

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Media captionThe BBC’s Fergal Keane spoke to Buddhists in the second city, Mandalay

Government spokesman Zaw Htay has urged displaced people to find refuge in temporary camps set up in Rakhine state but said Myanmar would not be able to allow all those who fled to Bangladesh to return.

How is the crisis affecting relations between Myanmar and Bangladesh?

Tensions have been mounting between the two countries, with Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina heading to the UN General Assembly on Saturday to ask for more pressure to be put on Myanmar to help deal with the crisis.

Separately, Bangladesh has lodged a formal protest with Myanmar about its use of military drones and helicopters which, it alleges, have violated Bangladeshi airspace on three days in the past week.

Bangladesh described their use as “provocative”. Myanmar denies the allegation.

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Media captionAzizu Haque lost his legs in a blast, as Reeta Chakrabarti reports

The two countries have also locked horns over the issue of landmines on the border. Bangladesh accuses Myanmar’s army of planting new landmines to stop refugees from returning to their villages.

But Myanmar officials deny this, saying they were old mines planted during military rule in the 1990s.

The BBC has spoken to Rohingya Muslims who were maimed after apparently stepping on landmines as they fled, but it was not clear when the mines were laid or by whom.

Who are the Rohingya?

There were at least a million members of the Rohingya ethnic group living in Myanmar, most of them Muslim, though some are Hindu.

They are thought to have their origins in what is now Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal, but many have been present in Myanmar for centuries.

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Media captionWatch: Who are the Rohingya?

The law in Myanmar does not recognise the Rohingya ethnic minority as one of its “national races” and they are effectively denied citizenship.

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Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has called on Myanmar to take the Rohingya refugees back.

Image caption The violence has been concentrated in the Rakhine area

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