Rohingya Refugee Asylum in Bangladesh

Bangladesh has been providing shelter to Rohingya refugees since 1978. Rohingya refugees are the stateless race of Rakhine State within Myanmar and share international boundary with southern part of Bangladesh. However, before 1962, they were recognized as one of the ethnic groups of Myanmar privileged with all the opportunities same as other citizens. Their ancestors are believed to be the Sunni Muslims of Arakan from Arabs, Moors, Turks, Persians, Moguls and Pathans. Since the World War II, they have suffered from abuse. In 1947 according to Human Rights Watch, representative leaders of Rohingya requested President Jinnah of Pakistan to incorporate northern Arakan into East Pakistan. The proposal cut a great impact upon them seemed as untrustworthy which followed racial discrimination, torment such as physical abuse, extra judicial execution, religious persecution, etc. and persecution to carry unpaid work force, inhumane labor, land confiscation and extortion. They suffered from restriction to move along country, participate in public service, residence rights, secondary and tertiary education with handful facilities. As a result, Bangladesh faced three major influxes of Rohingya refugees with the hope of living, overcoming from all the torments and above all leading human life with basic necessities.

Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh:

Recent and third major influx has been started from August 2017. From then more than 600,000 refugees have taken shelter and the total population has crossed 800,000 according to the research findings of Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG). ISCG has been publishing “Situation Update: Rohingya Refugee Crisis” once in a week describing population in different camps. Sudden influx of this huge population is too much to address by the government and even for the national and international organization.

Although Ministry of Food and Disaster Management (MFDM) and different organizations are assisting refugees continuously by providing makeshift camps beside two registered camps, they are overwhelmed with the extensive numbers. As a result, more than 176,000 refugees are building new spontaneous camps in different places of Cox’s Bazar. Most of the spontaneous camps are situated in reserved forest and hilly areas of Ukhia. They are building shelter by clearing forest trees and leveling the sloped hill. Whenever, they get the chances to move to makeshift camps where more reliefs and aids are available, they are abandoning the spontaneous camps. Most distressing issue is that they are residing and taking shelter in these spontaneous settlements for one to two weeks with their own effort and destroying the forest and leaving great deal of environmental consequences.

Habitation Location and Pattern:

The following map represents the population of refugees living in different areas and types of camps in Ukhia and Teknaf. The map is prepared focusing on the issue of habitation concern of Forum for Physical Development of Bangladesh associated with Rohingya refugee asylum.

Refugee Asylum Location and Population
Refugee Asylum Location and Population

Map Prepared: Author (2017)
Population Data Source: ISCG (2017)
Map Source: LGED (2008)
Forest Impact Information source: Khan, Uddin & Haque (2012),Mahmud (2017)

At first six spontaneous settlements were built by refugees, Burmapara, Moinerghona, Hakimpara, Thangkhali, Rubber Garden and Roikhong. There has been a new spontaneous settlement, Chakmarkul in Teknaf. After the expansion of Kutupalong and Balukhali makeshift camps, the two camps including Rubber Garden is now known as Kutupalong Expansion Site. Most of the refugees are convinced to move to this site from others. The map shows the incoming and outgoing pattern of refugees for different camps by the arrows. From Moinerghona almost 50,000 refugees have moved within two weeks and destroyed forest. All data consisting camp location and population are monitored and recorded by ISCG.12,000 refugees have moved from Shamlapur and cut 1000 tress of reserved forest. Thus destroyed 15 years project outcome within seven days. This not only increases chances of land slide but also vulnerability of human life. The findings has been came out from the survey of Mahmud and he mentioned that the refugees have no other choice but cutting trees for building house and managing fuel alternative as the reliefs are either unavailable or insufficient.

Rohingya Asylum in Spatial and Environmental Perspective:

Rohingya issues have been a major concern for last 39 years. The government provide asylum to them to reserve Human Right Convention but steps should be taken with care as the asylum has great deal of impact on the spatial and environmental perspective.

  • Impact on Hill  Geography and Increased Vulnerability:
    Rohingya are taking asylum by destructing reserved forest and cutting sloped hill in plain land. The hills of Chittagong district are made of crumby soil. The soil is clay loamy in character in comparatively leveled ground and sandy loam to coarse sand in hilly area. The soil is graded into sandstone. Average annual rainfall is 130 to 940 mm in Teknaf and 3490 mm highest including Ukhia. Average annual humidity is 27% to 99%. The heavy rainfall and flash flood causes the upper soil to loosen it strength and the underlining soil layer becomes unable to carry the upper layer of soil. Ad hoc deforestation and soil leveling cause landslides and soil disruption. Extensive use and pressure in hilly area for the intense density of living population impacts the soil carrying capacity of asylums built upon the hilly area. The material used to build dwelling is also not sustainable for hills. Polythene sheets are destructive in nature and also incapable to sustain the climate of hills. Registered camps in Kutupalong and Nayapara, unregistered camps in Taal, Balukhali, even newly allotted 2000 acres of area for Rohingya, all have built upon the reserved forest or hilly area. According to Environment Conservation Act 1995, all the natural resources must be preserved. Violation of this rule has severe consequences of hill slide.

Rohingya Refugee Camp in Cox's Bazar
Refugee Camp in Cox’s Bazar

Rohingya Refugee Clearing Hills for Shelter
Rohingya Refugee Clearing Hills for Shelter

Refugees Clean Bushes off of a Hill
Refugees Clean Bushes off of a Hill

Digging Hole in Hill for Water Well
Digging Hole in Hill for Water Well
  • Environmental Degradation:
    The Rohingya asylum is poorly supported for proper sanitation as the refugees are lakhs in number. In the registered camp of Kutupalong and Nayapara the ratio of latrine provided for human is 1:20 and 1:25 respectively according to UNHCR. To support recent influx of emergency latrines have been built in makeshift camps. Yet, refugees are dependent on forest to abandon human waste. This will interfere the acidic properties of hill soil. Human wastes in this extensive amount damage the soil chemical constitution balance as well as impair aesthetical balance. Providing sanitation facilities in hill is much difficult and need more precaution with specific design.
  • Impact on Biodiversity and Ecology:
    Natural water sources available near Kutupalong and Rakhaiyang are continuously getting polluted by the human waste and refugee’s extensive use as they have very few water from the authority for daily use. The minerals are damaged and so does the biodiversity. People dig deep hole in the hills to find water. Deforestation and soil erosion of hill has become a common problem for digging hole in improvised manner. As tube-wells and ground sources are scarce, purified water and rain water harvesting are possible solution.
    The hill tracks are mostly recognized as pathway of elephant and also major species of lizards, frogs, snakes and birds. The asylum has great deal of negative impact by destructing the biodiversity and resources. Area was declared reserved forest for special species and shrubs that were necessary for protection of environment of sloped area constituted with loamy soil. Research has shown that Rohingya refugees are responsible for destruction of these shrubs at about 70% rate in 2010 in Kutupalong, Nayapara and Leda camp. The consequences will result in possible extinction of any species which may change ecology.

Streams Polluted for Washing
Streams Polluted for Washing

Polluting Springs by Washing Plastic Sheet
Polluting Springs by Washing Plastic Sheet
  • Impact on Natural Resource:
    Cox’s Bazar is a great potential for tourist attraction. Ill maintained refugees are a great threat for this. Present Kutupalong and Nayapara registered camps for resettlement plan of Rohingya in 2006 are established on the reserved forest with valuable natural resources, flora and fauna. Unregistered camps such as Taal camp is also within reserved forest area. Rohingya refugees are continuously cutting forest trees to make shelter or store for fuel. Even, large tracks of forest have been cleared to earn money for smuggling. UNHCR used to provide fuel relief till 2004. After that the deforestation has increased. Investigation has also found out the illegal deforestation and woods have used for business to make furniture, boat and simply sell them as fire wood in market to earn livelihood. Research conducted by Ahamed, Hossain and Hoque in 2011 and Rahman and Hossain in 1994 showed that forest and natural trees have been destructed in Teknaf only by refugee.

Table: Forest destruction caused by Rohingya refugees in different time period

Forest Types

1994

2010

Plantation Forest

37%

10%

Natural Forest

11%

20%

Treeless Shrub

52%

70%

Source: Ahamed, Hossain and Hoque (2011)
Another research carried out by Khan, Uddin, and Haque in 2012 to illustrate scenario of unregistered refugees who have no aid from any organization showed that the 92.5% dependent directly and completely for livelihood, fuel, food, housing construction and medicinal purposes. Illegal forest destruction was carried out by 22% refugee households in Teknaf Wildlife Sanctuary (TWS). After second influx, in 1992, reserved forest of TWS dropped to 55% and 6% in 2006. Recent influxes are supported by asylum in Ukhia near Whykong Range that posses 65% reserved forest before the third influx. It is obvious that the asylum action without precaution like previous will be the reason of future destruction soon.

Severe difficulties have been reported regarding land claim in TWS. Research findings of Khan, Uddin, Khan and Haque also concluded, unregistered households of refugees living in Leda and Kerentoly camps occupy .15 ha forest land on an average. .09 ha is directly encroached and .06 ha is rented from local people. They claim to have ownership of that forest land according to the tradition or fashion hoist by local people after few years of possession. This type of land tenure ship will be the cause of rigorous problems in future. The opinion of forest officer Ali Kabir has been reported to the article of Radio Free Asia about the circumstances of forest and natural resource in Cox’s Bazar after the influx. 1625 acre forestland in Ukhia and 875 acres same in Teknaf have been occupied by the refugees. Forest resources worth 1.5 billion Bangladeshi Tk have been destroyed according to Ministry of Environment and Forest.

Above discussion illustrates that concern is urgent as soon as possible to ensure habitation facilities compatible with environmental and spatial perspective. If the steps are not taken with care the asylum action will be the reason of many problems for our nation.

Sources:

A review of UNHCR’s response to the protracted situation of stateless Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

Rural livelihoods of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and their impacts on forests: The case of Teknaf Wildlife

People’s perception on depletion of forest resources in Ukhia and Teknaf, Cox’s Bazar (South) Forest Division by Refugee

Dhaka Tribune

Situation Report: ISCG

Image Sources: RFA, MSF, gettyimages, REUTERS, REUTERS

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