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Reuters-FEATURE-Myanmar refugees th
- Subject: Reuters-FEATURE-Myanmar refugees th
- From: tinkyi@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Mon, 21 Jun 1999 13:44:00
Subject: Reuters-FEATURE-Myanmar refugees threaten B'desh economy
WIRE:June 19, 9:31 p.m. ET
FEATURE-Myanmar refugees threaten B'desh economy
KUTUPALONG, Bangladesh, June 20 (Reuters) - An influx of Moslem refugess
from military-ruled Myanmar is putting a strain on the limited resources of
Officials say for nearly nine years more than 21,000 registered refugees
have been living in two camps in Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar district,
bordering Myanmar's western Moslem-majority Arakan province.
But an estimated 10,000 Myanmar people are staying illegally outside the
camps, Cox's Bazar residents said.
Local Bangladeshis are resentful. They accuse the refugees of stripping
forests of trees and competing with local Moslems for jobs in the fishing
``They have persistently put pressure on our economy and taken a share of
the job market,'' said fish trader Mohammad Shohrab Ali.
Ali said the refugees, known as Rohingyas, are hired for lower wages by
owners of trawlers that go fishing in the Bay of Bengal.
Fishing is the prime business in Cox's Bazar and neighbouring coastal
districts. Illegal logging in local forests and smuggling to and from
Myanmar offer the other major ways of income.
Government officials, including the Relief and Repatriation Commissioner in
Cox's Bazar, Mohammad Borhanuddin, said the refugees often sneek out of the
camps desperately searching for work.
LOCAL WOODS SUFFER FROM POPULATION PRESSURE
``They (refugees) are a considerable burden on us ... and constitute a
threat to our economy and environment. But this is difficult to quantify,''
The most visible victims are the forests in Cox's Bazar and nearby Teknaf
areas. ``The Rohingyas cut them down mainly for sale in the local markets
as firewood to buy food and other provisions,'' said journalist Nurul
Local Bangladeshis accuse the refugees of theft. But refugee Sabbir Ahmed,
18, of Kutupalong camp, said: ``We collect wood from the jungles and give
labour to local people such as farm hands or fishing crew. Police often
arrest us because they say we are thieves. But most of us are good
The Rohingyas who have been migrating to Bangladesh constitute mostly
economic refugees, repatriation officials said.
Others include political activists who drew the wrath of Myanmar's military
by supporting pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and militants fighting
for a Moslem homeland in Arakan.
Borhanuddin accused the Myanmar authorities of dragging their feet on the
issue of repatriation.
``They are just causing more suffering to us by not taking their people
quickly. Now only 10-15 people go back every week while we asked for
hundreds to go home in each of three moves a month,'' he said.
U.N. DISMAYED AT SLOW PACE OF REFUGEES' RETURN
Christopher Lee, representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees
(UNHCR) in Cox's Bazar, said ``people are coming (from Arakan) for a range
of reasons including political differences.''
He said UNHCR's role was to help repatriate the refugees and make sure the
repatriation was voluntary.
But Lee expressed his dismay over the slow pace of their return. ``Our aim
was to complete the repatriation (of registered refugees) by June 2000 but
at the current pace this looks impossible,'' he said.
More than 250,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh in early 1992 saying they
were being persecuted at home. Their repatriation began in September that
year under the supervision of the UNHCR.
The process suddenly came to a halt in July 1997 with some 21,000 refugees
still left in Bangladesh. The process resumed in October 1998 but at a
``I left Arakan in the early 1990s as the military authority intensified a
crackdown on supporters on Suu Kyi's NLD (National League for Democracy),''
said Abul Alam, 26.
``Like me, hundreds of NLD supporters and activists in the Arakan Moslem
community were forced to leave their homes and country,'' he told Reuters.
Alam said at least 10,000 Rohingyas now live outside the camps at
Kutupalong and Nayapara, and the number was rising.
``We are living an inhuman life here (in Bangladesh) but it's still better
than facing the guns in Myanmar,'' said Mohammad Mohibullah,'' Alam's
friend and comrade.
Police said the camps also provided shelter to an unspecified number of
militants from the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation, the Arakan Rohingya
Islamic Front and the Arakan Liberation Army.
The groups are struggling to create an independent Moslem homeland in