Bangladeshi authorities have bulldozed over 3,000 “illegal” Rohingya-run shops in Cox’s Bazaar, raising concern about the already dismal state of the refugees in the country.
Speaking to AFP, Additional Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Mohammad Shamsud Douza confirmed that thousands of “illegal shops” had been destroyed. He added, “The number of Rohingya is increasing. And they need shelters. We are already building sheds on the premises.” He also reassured that relief groups were ensuring the regular supplies of essential items to the camps.
These make-shift shops represent several refugees’ “last hope” for sustenance in Bangladesh. To this end, rights groups have expressed alarm about the incident. Khin Maung, a Rohingya rights activist, said that the demolitions have damaged the livelihoods of several refugees and their families. He stressed, “Rohingya families are large, and the amount of food ration given to them is decreasing. Many families used to rely on the income from the shops.”
Critics clam that the shops in Cox's Bazaar were bulldozed to pressure the refugees to shift to camps on the cyclone-prone Bhashan Char island.
Similarly, Saad Hammadi, a South Asia Campaigner from Amnesty International, said that the decision to demolish the shops has left the refugees vulnerable to exploitation and “aggravated tension and frustration.” To this end, he called on the government to “protect the rights and dignity of the Rohingya refugees by involving them in the decisions including their right to earn a living.”
An international rights group activist quoted by Voice of America said that the demolitions are a part of the government’s pressure tactics to incentivise the refugees to shift to the Bhashan Char Island in the Bay of Bengal. Rights groups, including Amnesty International, have urged the Bangladeshi government to scrap its plans to shift the refugees to the island, citing safety concerns due to its vulnerability to floods and cyclones. Despite these requests, however, Dhaka maintains that it will rehouse 100,000 of the camps’ approximately one million Rohingya refugees on the island while it works on a long-term solution.
Bangladesh houses over 850,000 Rohingya refugees who fled Myanmar in 2017 in the aftermath of a deadly attack by Myanmar’s military that the United Nations (UN) has said was motivated by “genocidal intent.” While Bangladesh has been commended for accepting the refugees, onlookers have expressed concern about the restrictions placed on the refugees and the safety of their living conditions. /State Craft