September 11, 2017

COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh (AP) — Bangladesh has agreed to free a plot of land for a new camp to shelter hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who have fled recent violence in Myanmar, an official said Monday.

The new camp will help relieve some pressure on existing settlements in the Bangladeshi border district of Cox’s Bazar, where nearly 300,000 Rohingya have arrived since Aug. 25. “The two refugees camps we are in are beyond overcrowded,” said U.N. refugee agency spokeswoman Vivian Tan.

Other new arrivals were being sheltered in schools, or were huddling in makeshift settlements with no toilets along roadsides and in open fields. Basic resources were scarce, including food, clean water and medical aid.

Still, refugees were still arriving. An Associated Press reporter witnessed hundreds streaming into the border at Shah Puri Dwip on Monday. “Tomorrow we are expecting an airlift of relief supplies for 20,000 people,” Tan said.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had offered 2 acres (.8 hectares) near the existing camp of Kutupalong “to build temporary shelters for the Rohingya newcomers,” according to a Facebook post Monday by Mohammed Shahriar Alam, a junior minister for foreign affairs.

He also said the government would begin registering the new arrivals on Monday. Hasina is scheduled to visit Rohingya refugees on Tuesday. Aid agencies have been overwhelmed by the influx of Rohingya, many of whom are arriving hungry and traumatized after walking days through jungles or packing into rickety wooden boats in search of safety on the Bangladeshi side of the border.

Many tell similar stories — of Myanmar soldiers firing indiscriminately on their villages, burning their homes and warning them to leave or to die. Some say they were attacked by Buddhist mobs. The government hospital in Cox’s Bazar has been overwhelmed by Rohingya patients, with 80 arriving in the last two weeks suffering gunshot wounds as well as bad infections. At least three have been wounded in land mine blasts, and dozens have drowned when boats capsized during sea crossings.

The violence and exodus began on Aug. 25 when Rohingya insurgents attacked Myanmar police and paramilitary posts in what they said was an effort to protect their ethnic minority from persecution by security forces in the majority Buddhist country.

In response, the military unleashed what it called “clearance operations” to root out the insurgents. Accounts from refugees show the Myanmar military is also targeting civilians with shootings and wholesale burning of Rohingya villages in an apparent attempt to purge Rakhine state of Muslims.

Bloody anti-Muslim rioting that erupted in 2012 in Rakhine state forced more than 100,000 Rohingya into displacement camps in Bangladesh, where many still live today. Rohingya have faced decades of discrimination and persecution in Myanmar and are denied citizenship despite centuries-olds roots in the Rakhine region. Myanmar denies Rohingya exist as an ethnic group and says those living in Rakhine are illegal migrants from Bangladesh

Alam reported from Dhaka, Bangladesh. AP writer Ashok Sharma in New Delhi contributed to this report.

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