Deadly floods leave thousands of Rohingya refugees homeless again
By Karan Deep Singh and Saif Hasnat
Heavy monsoon rains have washed away sprawling Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh, turning settlements into fast-flowing rivers overnight. At least 11 people have died, officials said, and thousands are homeless once again.
Mamunur Rashid, a local official in Cox’s Bazar, where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees have lived for years after fleeing neighboring Myanmar, said that at least six people had died on Tuesday in the Balukhali and Palong Khali camps, including one child. Five others died in a camp at Teknaf on Wednesday morning, he said.
According to the Inter Sector Coordination Group, an international relief organization that oversees the camps, as many as 13,000 people have been affected by the severe floods and landslides, which have killed scores in India in recent days. Locals said that dozens of people had been reported missing.
Since 2017, more than 730,000 members of the Rohingya ethnic group have crossed into Bangladesh, fleeing a vicious military campaign of killing, rape and arson in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where the government does not consider them rightful citizens. The United Nations has called Myanmar’s persecution of the Rohingya, who are predominantly Muslim, “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
Refugees in the camps in Bangladesh have suffered further from disease, heavy rains and fires, including one in March that killed at least 15 people and left tens of thousands homeless.
Witnesses said that many of the refugees affected by the recent flooding and landslides were still living in squalid conditions after losing homes in that blaze.
“We are having a nightmarish life,” even after escaping to Bangladesh, said Mohammad Jubair, a Rohingya volunteer who said he saw a landslide destroy an entire hillside of shelters in the Balukhali refugee camp on Tuesday. At least three people, including a mother and her two children, were killed, he said.
Jubair, 22, added that a friend was also injured by a tin sheet that cut through his leg as he was trying to flee the landslide.
The rains had been pouring since last week, relief workers said. Things quickly grew worse on Tuesday as the floodwaters washed away most of the shanties.
One of them belonged to Hadir Hussain and six members of his family in the Kutupalong refugee camp. Their shack, made from bamboo sticks and a plastic sheet, was completely destroyed by the floods, he said.
Hussain, 18, said he didn’t know if it would ever be repaired.
“It’s a devastating situation here,” he said.
Many people affected by the floods urgently need food because they are unable to cook, said Hasina Akhter, the Cox’s Bazar area director for BRAC, a humanitarian agency based in Bangladesh. “Women and children are suffering a lot,” she said. “They also need medical support, as they may already have a cold or a fever.”
On Wednesday, the U.N. refugee agency said on Twitter that it was “deeply saddened” by the deaths of the refugees, which it said had been caused by “severe weather events.”
“Persistent rain and strong winds continue,” it said. “Our emergency response teams are in the camps, working in coordination” with the government and relief organizations.
Bangladesh, a low-lying nation of about 165 million people where monsoon rains arrive with a fury each year, is particularly vulnerable to climate change, scientists say. Torrential rains submerged at least a quarter of the country last year, leaving millions of people with nothing. In the past, rising sea levels combined with powerful cyclones have swallowed entire villages.
The floods have also struck the country as it is battling one of its worst coronavirus outbreaks. The health ministry reported nearly 15,000 new infections Tuesday and a record 258 deaths.
Bangladeshi officials have said that vaccinations will soon start for Rohingya refugees who are 55 and older.