BALUKHALI, Bangladesh – Rohingyas continued to arrive in droves to refugee camps in Bangladesh on Thursday, two weeks after Naypyidaw and Dhaka signed an agreement to repatriate the hundreds of thousands of members of the mostly Muslim community, who have fled across the border since late August to escape an ongoing military offensive in Rakhine in western Myanmar.
At least 350,000 Rohingyas have been living in refugee camps in Balukhali and Kutupalong in southeastern Bangladesh, in addition to the 100,000 who were already living in the area, and the two settlements together account for a refugee city with a population of almost half a million.
“Right now we are in the area where it is expanding. We are currently working in the XX area,” Raquel Bernedo from the Emergency Response unit of the Spanish branch of Red Cross told EFE.
An under-construction mosque marks the boundary between the tents in the camp – the XX area that Bernedo refers to – and completely deforested hills, that are awaiting new settlements.
Bernedo, who heads the sanitary facility construction unit, added they were building emergency toilets, which will be replaced with more permanent structures later.
“So far we have built 75 toilets, three of them in areas housing vulnerable women, and we have built about 100 women’s washing points, where they can shower or wash clothes,” said Bernedo.
According to the United Nations, 626,000 Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh since Aug. 25, when the Myanmar army launched an offensive in the region in response to a series of attacks by Rohingya rebels on multiple government posts.
The newly arrived Rohingyas – almost 2,000 in the last one week according to a report by the Inter Sector Coordination Group of the United Nations – had said that the Myanmar army was still razing Rohingya villages in Rakhine.
Following global backlash over the spiraling Rohingya crisis, Myanmar on Nov. 23, had signed an agreement with Bangladesh to repatriate the Rohingyas over a period of two months.
Myanmar does not recognize the Rohingyas as citizens and considers them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Bangladesh, too, where 300,000 Rohingyas were already living before the current crisis had erupted, considers them refugees.
The UN, United States and several other human rights organizations have repeatedly condemned the Myanmar army’s military offensive as ethnic cleansing.