Arakan State Advisory Commission Member Describes Inhumane Conditions for Refugees in Bangladesh

By Moe Myint 3 February 2017

RANGOON – An Arakan State Advisory Commission delegate who participated in a three-day trip to Bangladesh, Al Haj U Aye Lwin, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that the living conditions for Muslim refugees on the Bangladeshi border were “inappropriate even for animals.”

Commission members, U Win Mra—of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission—and Al Haj U Aye Lwin—co-founder of Religions for Peace Myanmar—as well as the former UN Special Advisor to the Secretary General, Ghassan Salame, visited Bangladesh at the end of January and arrived back in Rangoon on Wednesday.

The advisory commission made an official announcement on Thursday that three delegates had traveled to Dhaka to explore Bangladeshi perspectives on the various challenges facing Arakan State. During the visit, they held meetings with Bangladesh’s Foreign Affairs Minister, the Minister of Home Affairs, an advisor to the Prime Minister, former Bangladeshi diplomats of Bangladesh, as well as non-profit organizations, according to U Aye Lwin.

Bangladeshi authorities led the three commission delegates to the sites of several Rohingya camps in Teknaf, Cox’s Bazar, said U Aye Lwin. He added that, currently, the Bangladeshi officials had identified three categories of refugee housing: registered camps, makeshift camps and camps for new arrivals who fled the Maungdaw border region as a consequence of the Burmese armed forces’ “clearance operations” and manhunt for assailants who attacked three border outposts on Oct. 9, killing nine policemen.

International rights groups have accused the Burma Army of committing right abuses in the conflict zone; the Burmese government has rejected the allegations.

Al Haj U Aye Lwin told The Irrawaddy that the new arrivals were living in inhumane conditions.

“The place where they live is inappropriate even for animals, not to mention humans. When I asked a child if he had eaten, he just cried instantly.”

According to statistics released by the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Burma, the latest report on Feb. 2 states that a total 92,000 people have been displaced since the October 2016 attacks on police posts in northern Arakan State; among them 69,000 people have sought shelter in Bangladesh.

Speaking to reporters from The Daily Star after meeting with representatives from Bangladesh’s Institute of International and Strategic Studies on Jan. 31, commission delegate Ghassan Salame said that granting Burmese citizenship to Muslims in Arakan State was “key” to creating “a better situation” and halting the flow of Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh.

In a meeting with Bangladeshi police, U Aye Lwin said he questioned officials about whether insurgents had come across the Maungdaw border for the purpose of recruitment—claims which have not been substantiated. The deputy commissioner of the police in Cox’s Bazar reportedly answered that they “would not allow” security in the border areas to be compromised.

U Aye Lwin said that local Bangladeshis had disapproved of how the Rohingya refugees had cut down trees in the area in order to build makeshift shelters. They said they were also worried about job competition with the incoming population.

While the recent wave of Rohingya refugees are facing difficulties accessing food and healthcare, a government notice from Dhaka expressed concern about “law and order issues” and said that the country plans to relocate refugees to the Bangladeshi island of Thengar Char temporarily, to be returned to Burma eventually.