February 26, 2018
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European Union

EU lawmakers witness refugee crisis as Rohingyas keep flocking to Bangladesh

Kutupalang, Bangladesh, Feb 13 (efe-epa).- Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar continued to stream into Bangladesh having trekked through hills and crossed rivers, often terrified and half-starved, facts that European Union lawmakers were able to reflect on as they took stock Tuesday after a fact-finding mission.

Omar Mia and his family of four formed part of a group of 94 who crossed the Naf River, the natural border between Bangladesh and Myanmar, in two boats at the weekend.

“I used to work as a daily laborer, but last few months there was no work," Mia said. "Only Muslims families hired us for work. But there are not too many affluent Muslims left there either,” said 50-year old Mia, who added that he was from Ana Prang village, near northwestern Rathedaung.

Weeping as he spoke, Mia said he was in the first boat, which contained 42 occupants, including his family.

Aid workers gave them food before they were taken to the UNHCR transit point at the border of Cox's Bazar and Bandarban district near Kutupalang.

They had spent two days in one of the dozens of tents spread across the transit point.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights field officials, who were taking care of the group, said the families would be taken to a vast camp in Kutupalang once a new shelter was ready.

Mohammad Solaiman from Buchidaung said he had initially decided not leave in the immediate aftermath of violence that erupted on Aug. 25 as he thought the situation would soon return to normal.

“I thought everything would be okay," he said. "I had some land and around 40 cows. I could not abandon them. Now they have taken away everything and made me a pauper,” said Solaiman, who arrived in early February.

“Let Bangladesh authorities kill me here, I won’t go back unless I am given my land back,” said Solaiman.

Aid workers can be seen building new shelters at Kutupalong where there is little space to build even basic facilities. Rohingyas are forced to spend their days in long queues.

Bangladesh and Myanmar on Nov. 23 signed an agreement whereby the repatriation of Rohingyas could begin within a period of two months.

However, Bangladesh Deputy Foreign Minister Shahriar Alam said the move was delayed so that the process did not suffer any setbacks.

“We are taking our time because we want to involve the UNHCR," Alam said. "We have our agreement with them and we want to fill in the forms in front of them so no one can say we are forcing them or sending them back against their will,” Alam told reporters in Kutupalang on Monday.

“We also want to ensure they will not face the same problem after they go back, that’s why we will ask all for patience,” he said.

Alam made this remarks after he had guided a delegation of European Members of Parliament around the Rohingya refugee camp to give them a first-hand experience of the crisis.

“In terms of what we have seen it’s clear, there is a very difficult situation to manage,” said Jean Lambert, leader of the EU Delegation for Relations with the countries of South Asia.

“Bangladesh has already hosted many thousands of people, who have been expelled from Myanmar, we understand that in addition to over the million people already here there are still people arriving, there are still some stuck in the border, who cannot leave,” said the British MEP.

“We want people to be in a safe space," she said, adding that refugees at the moment feel safe in Bangladesh.

"But they wish to go to their own land, their own country, with their own citizenship and that is something we all have to work for,” she said.

Rene De Vries, head of the European Commission humanitarian office in Bangladesh, believed they have still a lot of things needed to be done for the displaced Rohingyas.

“There are 700,000 people who entered since August, this is on top of 300,000-400,000 who were already here. All in all this is now the fourth largest city in Bangladesh purely based on the number of people,” said the Dutch national.

The current crisis had began on Aug. 25, following an attack by an insurgent group.

That led to a violent response by Myanmar's military in the state of Rakhine, where it is calculated that around one million Muslim minority Rohingyas lived.

They are not recognized by the Myanmar authorities.

The United Nations and various human rights organizations have said there is clear evidence of human rights abuses in Myanmar, with the UNHCR calling the army's operations "ethnic cleansing" and saying there were indications of "genocide."

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