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One year and nearly a million migrants later, Cox’s Bazar feels the pinch

  • Published at 01:44 am August 28th, 2018
File photo of Kutupalong Rohingya refugee camp in Ukhiya, Cox's Bazar Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

The alteration to the demography of the region has been unprecedented. Rohingyas are now the majority of the population in Cox’s Bazar -- leaving locals in the minority

Cox’s Bazar’s local residents, on the frontline of Bangladesh’s welcome to the terror-stricken Rohingya fleeing Myanmar, are beginning to feel the fatigue of hosting the world’s largest refugee community.

The alteration to the demography of the region has been unprecedented. Rohingyas are now the majority of the population in Cox’s Bazar -- leaving locals in the minority. 

The UN condemnation of Myanmar’s military leadership yesterday came a full year after the most recent massive wave of refugees first crossed the border, and over four decades after the Rohingya first started to cross the border with tales of prejudice and victimization. 

Now, wearied by social and economic disruption and wary of the efficacy of repatriation timetables, Cox’s Bazar residents have broken the silence of the good host to share their own tales of hardship. 

Without rancour, they told the Dhaka Tribune how refugees had settled on homesteads and arable land, how the need for clinics and storehouses diminished the availability of classrooms, and how forests and hills had disappeared as the refugees sought shelter. 

More than one million Rohingyas currently live in the south-eastern district -- 700,000 Rohingyas entered the district last year while a further 500,000 others have lived there for many years.

“The Rohingyas have occupied all of the forest and hills in the area,” said Kabir Ahmed, who has been living in Ukhiya’s Baluchhara for the last two decades. 

Shamsul Alam, a first year student of Ukhiya Degree College, concurred that several thousand Rohingyas had taken shelter in a forest next to his home. 

“They [the Rohingyas] have also occupied arable land,” he said. 

“We had five acres of land but the Rohingyas have grabbed everything.”

Forestry officers said Rohingya refugees had occupied 10,000 acres of land over the years, with the recent refugees accounting for about 4,000 acres of the total.

Schooling disrupted 

Local schools and madrasas are used as camps for law enforcement agencies, medical teams, relief centres, and other purposes. This has led to a decline in the number of students—which worries guardians.

Kutupalong Government Primary School Headmaster Habibur Rahman said most of the classrooms were being used to provide the Rohingyas with humanitarian services. 

“A medical team has been set up in one classroom and two other classrooms are being used as barracks for policemen and Ansar members. Additionally, cooking ingredients are stored at one corner of the school, and a stove has also been set up in the field to cook for the Rohingyas,” he said. 

“We have provided shelter to Rohingyas on humanitarian grounds. But we also need to survive,” Ukhiya Degree College Principal Fazlul Karim said. 

He said they have left the college field and many classrooms so that they can be used as store rooms and other services for the refugees. 

“So, one can infer how much of an education the students are getting.”

Destruction of forests

The Rohingyas have occupied a 10 km stretch of forest near Kutupalong market. They emptied the forests by cutting the trees and razed hills to establish a place to stay. 

Due to the Rohingyas, the locals have not only lost their land but also spaces designated as shelter for their domestic animals. 

The refugees have occupied 4,000 acres of land, although the government has designated 2,000 acres for them.

 Local businessman Bashir Ullah said the Rohingyas have taken everything away. 

“I have four domestic animals but they cannot graze as there is no space.”

Local youth, Helaluddin, said the Rohingyas not only occupied their homesteads but also cut down all the trees and hills. 

The local forest department seems helpless as the refugees cut one hill after another.

Md Ali Kabir, divisional forestry officer of Cox’s Bazar (south) forest department, said the Rohingyas have grabbed 10,000 acres of land in Ukhiya range.   

The old Rohingyas [who have been living in the area for many years] occupied 6,000 acres of land and the new ones claimed 4,000 more acres of land, he said. 

Due to the influx of Rohingyas, the prices of essentials have shot up—severely impacting poor locals. 

The government, along with a number of private organizations, has started providing assistance to the locals affected by the influx of Rohingyas. 

Cox’s Bazar Deputy Commissioner Md Kamal Hossain said the government had extended its cooperation to local residents. 

Recently rice, lentils, clothes, and other essentials were distributed among the locals. 

“The government is taking care of the locals in the district, including the residents living in and around Rohingya camps,” he added.