Local people angry as NGOs destroy hills for Rohingya camps

UNB . Cox's Bazar | Update:

Over 6,000 acres of land has been deforested for setting up Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar. UNB File PhotoAmid the government's efforts to send back the displaced Rohingyas to their homeland in Myanmar, some NGOs are reportedly trying to build new makeshift camps for them, cutting down hills and forests, angering local people.

Locals alleged that a number of NGOs are building new camps for the expansion of Rohingya settlements in a vast area of Thaingkhali in Ukhiya upazila, uprooting trees and cutting hills despite government restrictions on further hill cutting.

Many trees are being uprooted due to the construction of the makeshift houses, drawing severe criticism from local residents.

The locals alleged that some local NGOs and INGOs are pocketing foreign aid meant for Rohingyas in the name of development work in the camps.

Cox's Bazar deputy commissioner Kamal Hossain ordered immediate removal of the new establishments.

Talking to UNB, Kamal Hossain said, "Prime minister Sheikh Hasina has instructed not to establish any new Rohingya camps by cutting down hills. Now the move to expand Rohingya camps by bulldozing hills is regretful."

Palongkhali union parishad chairman Gafur Uddin Chowdhury said, “Some NGOs are obstructing the Rohingya repatriation move in their own interests and resorting to different techniques to discourage Rohingyas to go to Bhashanchar in Noakhali. Some are also instigating fresh Rohingya influx.”

During a recent visit to the area, the UNB correspondent found that some 400 makeshift houses were built at Londakhali, adjacent to camp No-19 of Thaingkhali, and solar lights were also installed.

Abul Azam, Subrata Alam, Sujon and some other local residents of Londakhali area told the correspondent that two NGOs -- Ekota and Muslim Hands -- are involved in the camp expansion work.

However, executive magistrate and in-charge of four Rohingya camps, Abu Wahaab Rashed, said the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has taken a project to build a road to ease communications inside camps and for the implementation of a project to build several makeshift houses.

“That’s why the new establishments are being built for their rehabilitation.”

Mohammad Bedar, a resident of Palongkhali village, said, “Some 1.2 million Rohingyas are living in Ukhiya-Teknaf camps and the forests are being destroyed to accommodate them.”

Local people further alleged that the NGOs take Tk 100,000 from foreign aid organisations for each 15-20 feet of bamboo and polythene-made houses which actually costs Tk 10,000 to Tk 15,000.

Besides, they are making money while building toilets, setting up tube-wells and constructing roads and drains in Rohingya camps, the locals alleged.

Abul Kalam, Cox's Bazar Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC), however said, “Rohingyas are waiting for their repatriation and the new structures are being built for relocating some Rohingyas during monsoon. Besides, it will require relocating some Rohingyas during the development works of the ADB and the World Bank. There's no scope for further Rohingya influx.”

Ukhiya Upazila Nirbahi Officer Nikaruzzaman Chowdhury, said, “Those who are in-charge of camps are looking after the camp activities but they aren't aware what the NGOs are doing. The deputy commissioner of the district has ordered removal of the newly-built camps and it will be done accordingly.”

Bangladesh is now hosting over 1.2 million Rohingyas in Cox's Bazar with around 741,000 fleeing Myanmar since August 2017.

Bangladesh faces the worst manmade disaster from Myanmar without any war or any conflict.

The total value of 6,000 acres of land deforested for setting up the Rohingya camps is equivalent to over Tk 7.41 billion, said the International Chamber of Commerce-Bangladesh in its editorial of News Bulletin (April-June 2018).

The government of Myanmar signed a repatriation agreement with Bangladesh, but not a single Rohingya refugee has returned under this formal framework.

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