TEKNAF, Bangladesh, Sept 7, (AFP): Once-lush hillsides have been stripped bare and transformed into squalid tent cities as Rohingya refugees pour into Bangladesh, joining thousands enduring hunger and disease after fl eeing violence in Myanmar.
After dangerous boat crossings or gruelling journeys on foot with little food or water, they do what little they can to shield their families from monsoon rains, frantically building shelters from bamboo and scraps of tarpaulin. In the last two weeks 164,000 mostly Rohingya civilians have fl ed an eruption of fighting in Myanmar, overwhelming refugee camps in Bangladesh that were bursting at the seams even before the latest infl ux. Once they arrive, they face fresh threats to survival.
“All my children have cold and fever. These plastic sheets cannot protect us from the monsoon,” Fatimatuz Zuhra told AFP on the blighted hillsides of Unchiprang, some 20 kms (12 miles) from the border. “I have no idea what I will do if I have to live here longer. I think about the winter and I am terrified,” she said as she squatted in the mud near her makeshift dwelling, one of some 15,000 people taking refuge there. New settlements are mushrooming across Bangladesh — in fields, hillsides and along roads and rivers — after the exodus that followed a massive Myanmar security sweep following deadly ambushes by Rohingya militants.
Meanwhile, Iran’s Red Crescent said Thursday it has prepared an aid package for Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims as they fl ee a crackdown by security forces, local media reported. “An emergency, food, life support and hygiene package has been prepared by the Red Crescent to be sent to Myanmar,” said head of the organisation Morteza Salimi, according to the ISNA news agency. The package would be “immediately sent to the oppressed people of this country if we receive authorisation from Myanmar,” he said, adding it had been ordered by President Hassan Rouhani.
It comprised of a plane-load of aid weighing 40 tonnes and worth around four billion rials (just over $100,000), Salimi later told AFP. Iranian officials have repeatedly condemned the massive security operations by the Myanmar army that followed a series of deadly ambushes by Rohingya militants on August 25.
The United Nations says 164,000 refugees have so far fled to neighbouring Bangladesh. Iran’s ambassador to the UN, Gholam Ali Khoshrou, on Thursday said he was working to bring together ministers and diplomats from several Islamic countries to discuss the issue.
Thousands of people have signed an online petition calling for the Nobel committee to revoke Aung San Suu Kyi’s peace prize over the Myanmar government’s treatment of its Rohingya Muslims. But the Norwegian Nobel committee has ruled out any such move, saying only that the work which led to the awarding of the prize was taken into account.
The Change.Org petition has gathered over 365,000 signatures as of Thursday, reflecting growing outrage over a massive security sweep in Rakhine state by Myanmar forces after a series of deadly ambushes by Rohingya militants. “The de facto ruler of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi has done virtually nothing to stop this crime against humanity in her country,” the petition says. Five Rohingya villagers whose distraught relatives say they were shot dead by the Myanmar military were buried Thursday in Bangladesh at a mass funeral attended by hundreds of people after their bodies were carried across the border.