Rohingya refugees in peril


The monsoon and cyclone season is coming and time is running out to save thousands of Rohingya refugees from imminent landslides and flood disaster.

By Richard Burden

Originally published by HuffPost, March 10, 2018

Even before visiting the Bangladesh/Burma border area last week, my work as a member of the House of Commons International Development Committee meant I knew a fair amount about the scale of the Rohingya crisis. But nothing quite prepares you for the enormity of the humanitarian emergency that you see for yourself when you go there and which could, within weeks, still claim the lives of thousands of those who have managed to survive and escape the ethnic cleansing taking place in Burma/Myanmar itself.

According to the Inter-Sector Coordination Group overseeing humanitarian relief operations in the area, over 671,000 men, women and children fled across the border into Bangladesh in just six months since the latest military onslaught on the Rohingya people began in Myanmar’s Rakhine State on 25 August last year. Already traumatised by seeing their villages torched and friends and family either killed or missing, an estimated 589,000 of those refugees are today crammed together in the Kutupalong-Bakukhali Expansion Site down the road from Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar resort.

The area used to be a forest, but now trees are nowhere to be seen. They have been replaced by flimsy shacks made of wood, plastic sheeting, bamboo and – occasionally – tin. The shacks in which the refugees now live are everywhere, precariously perched on the loose earth that deforestation has left behind.

Much has already been written about the horrors unfolding inside Rakhine state as well as the emergency relief effort going on to provide the Rohingya refugees with food, shelter and urgent medical care. Now, though, another killer is just weeks away. The coming monsoon rains and the likelihood of cyclone will cause floods, mudslides and landslips that will simply sweep away many of the makeshift shacks. Aid agencies have estimated that shacks currently housing over 100,000 Rohingyas in Kutupalong-Bakukhali could be destroyed during the rains, with 23,000 refugees living on the slopes at high risk of landslide. The dirt roads that are the only access into the camp will also turn into quagmires impassable to rescue vehicles trying to reach those buried or cut off by mudslides and flood. Refugees that are cut off will, in turn, become still more vulnerable to disease than they already are in the crowded conditions of the camp.

Read the full article here.

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Richard Burden

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I was Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Northfield between 1992 and 2019 and a former Shadow Transport Minister. I now chair Healthwatch in Birmingham and Solihull, and the West Midlands Board of Remembering Srebrenica. I also work as a public affairs consultant. I am an effective community advocate and stakeholder alliance builder with a passion for human rights. I am a trustee of the Balfour Project charity and of Citizens Advice Birmingham, and a former Chair of Medical Aid for Palestinians.

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