By AL-EMRUN GARJON and JULHAS ALAM, Associated Press
COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh (AP) — With hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims in need of shelter after fleeing recent violence in Myanmar, a Bangladesh official said Monday the government will free land for a new camp.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has offered 2,000 acres 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.
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 Vivian Tan, a spokeswoman for the United Nations refugee agency.
Alam also said the government will also begin fingerprinting and 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 in Bangladesh.
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.
On Monday, Bangladesh’s human rights watchdog demanded that atrocities by Myanmar authorities against Rohingya be prosecuted.
“This genocide needs to be tried at international court,” National Human Rights Commission Chairman Kazi Reazul Haque told a news conference in Cox’s Bazar.
“The killing, arson, torture and rape … by the Myanmar’s military and border guards is unprecedented,” he said.
Across the globe in Geneva, the U.N. human rights chief likewise chronicled the violence Monday at the start of the latest Human Rights Council session.
Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, who is a Jordanian prince, said the situation “seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
The U.N. refugee agency has counted 270,000 people from Myanmar fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh in the last three weeks, Zeid said, pointing to satellite imagery and reports of “security forces and local militia burning Rohingya villages” and committing extrajudicial killings.
Zeid spoke about the human rights concerns in Myanmar after first recognizing the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. He also spoke about rights concerns in Burundi, Venezuela, Yemen, Libya and the United States, where he expressed concerns about the Trump administration’s plan to dismantle protection for younger immigrants, many of whom have lived most of the lives in the U.S.
Haque with Bangladesh’s human-rights watchdog He said stronger action was needed from the international community, including the U.N., the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
He also called on China and India to play a larger role in mitigating the crisis.
In the last two weeks, 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.
Some of those fleeing violence have found shelter in schools, or are huddling in makeshift settlements with no toilets along roadsides and in open fields. Basic resources are scarce, including food, clean water and medical aid.
An Associated Press reporter witnessed hundreds streaming through the border at Shah Puri Dwip on Monday.
Tan, with the U.N. refugee agency, said an airlift of relief supplies for 20,000 people is expected Tuesday.
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.
Refugee accounts of the latest spasm of violence in Rakhine have typically described shootings by soldiers and arson attacks on villages. But there several cases that point to anti-personnel land mines or other explosives as the cause of injuries on the border with Bangladesh.
AP reporters on the Bangladesh side of the border on Monday saw an elderly woman with devastating leg wounds: one leg with the calf apparently blown off and the other also badly injured. Relatives said she had stepped on a land mine.
Myanmar has one of the few militaries, along with North Korea and Syria, which has openly used anti-personnel land mines in recent years, according to Amnesty. An international treaty in 1997 outlawed the use of the weapons; Bangladesh signed it but Myanmar has not.
Before Aug. 25, Bangladesh had already been housing more than 100,000 Rohingya who arrived after bloody anti-Muslim rioting in 2012 or amid earlier persecution drives in Myanmar.
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.
The Dalai Lama said he felt “very sad” about the suffering of Rohingya Muslims, and that those harassing them “should remember Buddha. I think such circumstances Buddha would definitely help those poor Muslims.”
He told reporters on Saturday that he had delivered this message to Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi several years ago at a meeting of Nobel Peace Prize laureates.
While Burmese Buddhists in Myanmar also worship the Buddha, they follow a different religious tradition than Tibetans and do not recognize the Dalai Lama as their spiritual leader.
Myanmar presidential spokesman Zaw Htay did not answer phone calls seeking comment Sunday. Military spokesman Myat Min Oo said he couldn’t comment without talking to his superiors. A major at the Border Guard Police headquarters in northern Maungdaw near the Bangladesh border also refused to comment.
Lt. Col. S.M. Ariful Islam, commanding officer of the Bangladesh border guard in Teknaf, said on Friday he was aware of at least three Rohingya injured in explosions.
Bangladeshi officials and Amnesty researchers believe new explosives have been recently planted, including one that the rights group said blew off a Bangladeshi farmer’s leg and another that wounded a Rohingya man. Both incidents occurred Sunday. It said at least three people including two children were injured in the past week.
Alam reported from Dhaka, Bangladesh. AP writer Ashok Sharma in New Delhi contributed to this report.
By AP writer JAMEY KEATEN in Geneva contributed to this report.