Fresh hill cutting ‘by NGOs’ to expand Rohingya camps angers locals

Cox’s Bazar: Amid the government’s efforts to send back the displaced Rohingyas to their homeland in Myanmar, some NGOs are reportedly trying to build new makeshift camps for them destroying hills and forests, angering local people.

Locals alleged that a number of NGOs are building new camps for the expansion of Rohingya settlements in a vast area under Thaiongkhali of Ukhia upazila uprooting trees and cutting hills despite government restriction on further hill cutting.

Many trees are being uprooted due to the construction of the makeshift houses, which drew a huge flak from local residents.

Locals alleged that some local NGOs and INGOs are pocketing money from the foreign aid meant for Rohingyas in the name of development works in the Rohingya camps.

When Deputy Commissioner of Cox’s Bazar Kamal Hossain came to know about the matter, he ordered immediate eviction of the new establishments.

Talking to UNB, Kamal Hossain said, “Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has instructed not to establish any new Rohingya camps by cutting hills. Now the move to expand Rohingya camps bulldozing hills secretly is regretful.”

M Gafur Uddin Chowdhury, Palongkhali Union Parishad Chairman, said, “Some NGOs are obstructing the Rohingya repatriation move to gain their own interest and resorting to different techniques to discourage Rohingyas to go to Bhashanchar in Noakhali. Some are also instigating fresh Rohingya influx.”

During a recent visit to the area, the UNB correspondent found that some 400 makeshift houses were built at Londakhali adjacent to camp No-19 of Thaingkhali and solar lights were also installed.

Abul Azam, Subrata Alam, Sujon and some other local residents of Londakhali area told the correspondent that two NGOs — Ekota and Muslim Hands –are involved in the camp expansion work.

However, executive magistrate and in-charge of four Rohingya camps Abu Wahaab Rashed said the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has taken a project to build a road to ease communications inside camps and for the implementation of a project to build several makeshift houses. “That’s why the new establishments are being built for their rehabilitation.”

Mohammad Bedar, a resident of Palongkhali village, said, “Some 1.2 million Rohingyas are living in Ukhia-Teknaf camps and the forests are getting destroyed to accommodate Rohingyas.”

Local people further alleged that the NGOs take Tk one lakh from foreign aid organisations for each 15-20 feet of bamboo and polythene-made houses which actually costs Tk 10,000 to Tk 15,000.

Besides, they are making money while building toilets, setting up tube-wells and constructing roads and drains in Rohingya camps, the locals alleged.

Abul Kalam, Cox’s Bazar Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC), said, “Rohingyas are waiting for their repatriation and the new structures are being built for relocating some Rohingyas during monsoon. Besides, it will require to relocate some Rohingyas during the development works of the ADB and the World Bank. There’s no scope for further Rohingya influx.”

Upazila Nirbahi Officer of Ukhiya Nikaruzzaman Chowdhury, said, “Those who are in-charge of camps are looking after the camp activities but they aren’t aware what the NGOs are doing. The Deputy Commissioner of the district has instructed to evict the newly-built camps and it will be done accordingly.”

Bangladesh is now hosting over 1.2 million Rohingyas in Cox’s Bazar with around 741,000 fleeing Myanmar since August 2017.

Bangladesh faces the worst manmade disaster from Myanmar without any war or any conflict and the total value of 6,000 acres of deforested land in Rohingya camps is equivalent to Tk 741.31 crore or $86.67 million, said the International Chamber of Commerce-Bangladesh in its editorial of News Bulletin (April-June 2018).

Some 6,000 acres of land have already been deforested by the Rohingya camps.

According to an estimate, the total value of 6,000 acres of deforested land in the Rohingya camps is equivalent to Tk 741.31 crore or $86.67 million.

The government of Myanmar had signed a repatriation agreement with Bangladesh, which continues to host the Rohingyas.

But not a single Rohingya refugee has returned under the formal framework agreed with Bangladesh.