Rain, relocation add to woes in Rohingya Muslim camp

COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh—Monsoon rains, relocations and extortion attempts are worsening the living situation in the Bangladeshi camps for Rohingya Muslims who fled Myanmar.

Several Rohingya camps in this coastal city are flooded from three days of unrelenting rains. People in the camps were being pelted with heavy rain on Wednesday while desperately packing their meagre belongings into plastic sacks and bits of clothes and trying to find new shelter.

The initial arrivals in the most recent exodus simply settled on whatever patch of land they could find, building shelters of bamboo sticks and plastic sheets.

But as their numbers soared to more than 420,000 in a matter of weeks, the local government has started moving them to newly allocated refugee camp areas. Many refused to move, terrified of being without shelter at all. But the rains washed away many shanties or made them uninhabitable.

So they’re moving again. Most of them are being sent to the new settlement of Balukhali in Cox’s Bazar.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, groups of weary Rohingya were carrying whatever they could salvage from their submerged shelters and walking toward the new camps to build shelters all over again.

If the rain doesn’t ease soon, the flimsy homes may become useless at best and dangerous at worst. The area is prone to mudslides during the seasonal monsoon that have already proven deadly this year.

For Abul Bashar, that concern will come later, if at all. For now, he needs to shelter his family of 12 from the rain.

They were made to pull up the shelters they had first built on an open field. Now they’ve moved to Balukhali.

But like all crises, the Rohingya exodus is an opportunity for exploitation and a camp mafia is taking advantage.

Bashar doesn’t have the 2,000 taka ($24) to pay them to set up a shelter in this camp.

The family slept in the tent of an acquaintance, but things are tight for everyone, and Bashar says he must find a shelter of his own soon.

He has plastic sheets and bamboo sticks. Just no money to buy a spot.

Hafizullah, 55, has the same problem. He doesn’t have the 2,000 taka needed to secure a spot.

In the vast open ground where the new refugees had built their first shelters now lie piles of things they simply stuff into bags and carry to their new homes.

Not too far away, in the area where all the shelters were almost submerged, some refugees stood near bundles of their belongings unsure of what to do next.

“We made a shelter here and now it’s washed away and I don’t know what to do now,” Mohammad Isaq, 50, said.

“I haven’t eaten properly in three days. I’m too weak to take all our belongings to another place.”