They fled to a no man's land from no-Rohingya land. Now they face an even more uncertain future

Thousands of Myanmar refugees take shelter in tents made of polythene sheets amid winter cold

Sankar Barua Rumi, U She Thowai
Published : 22 Jan 2023, 09:05 PM
Updated : 22 Jan 2023, 09:05 PM

A group of Rohingya who were living on a strip of land between Bangladesh and Myanmar have taken shelter in Bandarban’s Naikkhyangchhari near the border after a fire incident amid a deadly gunfight.

Thousands of refugees, including women and children, are now spending their days and nights in misery in tents made of polythene sheets on the grounds of the local government primary school, market and fallow lands amid winter cold.

The refugees in the camps of Cox’s Bazar do not have access to jobs, but support from local and international aid agencies.

On the Tumbru border, the situation is worse as only the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has access to the camp.

The strip of land on the Tumbru border is called “no man’s land” by many as neither of the two countries has control over it.

The refugees took shelter on the border in 2017 after a brutal military campaign by their homeland Myanmar, which does not recognise the Rohingya as an ethnic minority group and denies them citizenship. Some of the nearly 4,000 Rohingya crossed the border into Myanmar from the no man’s land after the recent violence.

As conflicting reports started coming out about last week’s gun battle and fire, the local administration said they could not confirm anything as they do not have authority on the piece of land.

The refugees said the fight erupted between the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army and the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation – two armed Rohingya insurgent groups. At least one man was killed, and another man and a child were injured.

The man injured in the fight claimed he was a member of the RSO and they were fighting the Myanmar military.

The refugees, who do not have enough food, drinking water or sanitation facilities now on the Bangladesh side of the border, said they are afraid of returning to the burnt camp as fresh fighting between the ARSA and the RSO may start anytime.

The people fully dependent on aid do not know where they will go or from where their food will come.

As there is no visible effort by anyone to help them, Tumbru Government Primary School has stopped classes due to their presence,

The local administration and law enforcement have surrounded the area, letting no one go in or out. Some journalists and public representatives spoke to the refugees.

Mohammad Alam, a member of the Ghumdhum union council, believes more than 2,000 Rohingya refugees have taken shelter around the school. Some NGOs provided them with polythene sheets and tarpaulins on Saturday to set up tents.

AKM Zahangir Aziz, chairman of the union council, said they were waiting for the administration’s orders to take steps on the Rohingya.

Nurul Alam, a 50-year-old Rohingya refugee, said they breached the barbed wire fence and took shelter in Myanmar after the fighting began, but Border Guard Police sent them back to Bangladesh.

“We don’t know what’s in our fate. We have no shelter, water, toilet or food here.”

Another refugee, Abdul Hamid, 39, said the latest development reminded him of the misery they suffered after the 2017 military operation. “We’re afraid of returning to our destroyed shelters amid the fighting.”

Abdur Rahman, a trader at Tumbru market, said locals fear the area will become a refugee camp like those in Cox’s Bazar.

Mohammad Mizanuzzaman Chowdhury, the commissioner for refugee, relief and repatriation, said the Rohingya in Tumbru were being given food through the ICRC from Saturday. Information on the number of refugees was also being gathered, he said.

Romen Sharma, chief executive of Naikkhyangchhari Upazila administration, said the Border Guard Bangladesh and local law enforcement were monitoring the situation closely.