Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Living in a No-man's Land

Source from Irrawaddy news magazine Vol 18, No.1, Jan 2010

The Rohingya of northwestern Burma are fleeing to Bangladesh, where unofficial, makeshift refugee camps are rapidly expanding. The plight of the Rohingya in Burma and Bangladesh has grown worse during the past year.

Burmese authorities enforce a policy that promotes a form of ethnic cleansing, based on repressive regulations aimed at the Rohingya, who must apply for permission to move from one village to another, to repair local mosques, even to get married—rights that are routinely denied. They are excluded from jobs and other opportunities because of discrimination based on their Muslim religion. Thousands continue to flee to Bangladesh to find a better life, only to be isolated in crude, unofficial camps, such as the makeshift Kutupalong camp which has sprung up during the past year near Cox’s Bazar.

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Conditions are dire inside the camps. Refugees live with little humanitarian assistance. Rohingya seeking work are discriminated against by Bangladeshis, who often refuse to hire them or otherwise exploit them as a source of low-paid labor. In the unofficial camps, there are no medical services and drinking water is unsafe. Many Rohingya choose to flee the country by boat, risking a perilous sea voyage in a small boat at the mercy of pirates and smugglers.

To make matters worse, Burmese authorities have begun constructing a 200-kilometer [125-mile] fence along the border designed to prevent cross-border access. Meanwhile, the Rohingya say they are trapped in a no-man’s land and neither country offers them a way of life that provides freedom and opportunity. 

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