On Tuesday, at least four Rohingya refugees drowned off the coast of Bangladesh. The rough waters tipped the boat, capsizing it and tossing its occupants into the water. According to UNHCR (the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees) and the survivors, there were a total of 42 people packed into the small boat before it capsized and 22 of them were injured. Among the dead was a 15-year-old boy. Many were taken to a nearby hospital for treatment.
This boat was fleeing Burma when it sunk, and it was headed to the safety of the enormous refugee camps in Bangladesh where the survivors will undoubtedly face new, life threatening problems.
Rohingya refugees have continued to try to make their way into the city of Cox’s Bazar, an industrial port city with the longest sea beach in the world. While it is often a major tourist destination, it has recently become a haven for many Rohingya Muslims fleeing out of Burma (Myanmar) as the conflict that has been described as “textbook ethnic cleansing” continues. Their presence in 2012 incited what has been known as the “2012 Ramu violence,” that many attribute to the mass influx of refugees and their differing ideologies from the Buddhist locals.
Bangladesh now houses over 820,000 refugees, and the Bangladeshi government has thought of several ideas to help mitigate this growing problem. They had the idea to place all the refugees on an island, but found that their island of choice was prone to flooding and certainly not made of anything sturdy. Recently, they have planned to build a larger camp that will reportedly be able to hold all 820,000 refugees–3,000 acres to accommodate these people. That’s around 159 square feet per person, though the number of incoming refugees increases by the day. Their current living conditions have been described as almost unlivable, and in dire need of basic hygiene and sanitation.
The refugees have received a wide variety of mixed treatments since their arrival. Their living conditions are poor, but sources on the ground have reported a vastly different treatment from the military and the secret police, both of which change depending on the public’s awareness of the situation on the ground. Historically speaking, the military has been more accommodating, often punishing those who take advantage of the Rohingya’s vulnerable position. On the other hand, the secret police have directly hindered aid workers and strove to keep everything quiet, hoping the media passes on by and they can begin to turn the Rohingya away on a larger scale. As the media attention has progressed, both have improved in their treatment toward the refugees.
Featured image courtesy of AP Images.