The government began identifying the Rohingya refugees who have fled violent persecution in Rakhine state as “forcefully displaced Myanmar citizens”.
Disaster Management Minister Mofazzal Hossain Chowdhury Maya made the announcement at a press conference on Thursday following his visit to the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.
“As per the decision of the Foreign Ministry, the state will identify Rohingya people as forcefully displaced Myanmar citizens. This identity will be assigned from today,” he said.
The minister said the number of unregistered refugees who have entered Bangladesh since the latest Myanmar army crackdown began on August 25 has already exceeded 500,000, adding to the 400,000 who were already in the country.
He said the government was aiming to bring them all under the biometric registration system by the middle of December.
“So far 61,000 refugees had registered themselves [and] at the Kutupalong camp in Cox’s Bazar, 6,000-7,000 people are getting registered every day. Soon we want to increase this number to 10,000-12,000 per day to finish the registration of the refugees within two-and-a-half months,” he said.
The government initially allocated 2,000 acres of land to build temporary shelters for the Rohingya in Kutupalong and Balukhali. With the ongoing influx of refugees, however, the disaster management minister said there was no longer enough space to keep all the Rohingya in one place.
“We are allocating another 1,000 acres. All Rohingya refugees who have arrived since 1978 will be kept in the Kutupalong camp,” he said.
“This will help us register all the Rohingya and help us deliver them food, and health and other services. Their biometric card will become an asset for them.”
The 3,000-acre Kutupalong camp has been divided into 20 blocks and the government has built 75,000 of the planned 84,000 sheds to shelter 420,000 people, the minister said.
“But with more people arriving, we are now planning to build a total of 150,000 sheds,” he added.
Authorities have begun the process of moving Rohingya refugees who arrived in Bandarban to the Kutupalong camp, and they will be brought back from other areas as well.
“The World Health Organisation is providing food for 520,000 people and the rest are being provided from various local and international relief efforts,” Maya said.
“Everything else aside, the refugees need a daily supply of 120,000 tons of rice. All of that is being supplied from foreign aid. The government has only provided 10 tons of rice and Tk30 lakh from its own reserves.”
By October 10, the government will finish building roads within the Kutupalong camp and by October 15 street lamps, health centres and police outposts will be placed.
“Then it will look like a suburban area. But this is all a temporary arrangement,” he said.
Maya said law enforcement and intelligence agencies were alert to prevent any political manipulation, coercion or extortion of the Rohingya refugees.
“Anybody trying to take advantage of their condition will face stern action,” he said.
In reply to a question about whether the allocation of additional land would be harmful to the local ecology and forestation, the minister said: “This land belongs to the Forest Department but it was not a dense forestation, so it will not be very harmful.”
Asked why the registration of the Rohingya refugees had not been given to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, the minister replied: “We have not declared them as refugees, so we cannot involve UNHCR in this. We are sheltering these people purely for humanitarian reasons. We are hoping that they will go back to their country soon.”