DHAKA: Bangladeshi authorities on Saturday began registering thousands of Rohingya refugees who entered the country after spending the past five years in no man’s land.
Although Bangladesh is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, it has hosted and provided humanitarian support to 1.2 million Rohingya Muslims, most of whom fled neighboring Myanmar during a military crackdown in 2017.
A majority of the refugees live in squalid camps in Cox’s Bazar district, a coastal region in the country’s southeast and the world’s largest refugee settlement. But one group settled in no man’s land near the hilly Bandarban district neighboring Myanmar.
After fleeing their country of origin, more than 4,000 members of the group remained in the area, hoping that they would be able to return home. But as the situation in Myanmar failed to improve and Bangladesh in 2019 decided to stop receiving more Rohingyas, they were trapped, living in makeshift tents they raised in the unowned territory.
Earlier this month, most of the shelters were burnt down during armed clashes that triggered security concerns and a decision by Bangladeshi authorities to register the group’s members.
“Our committee has started the verification process for these people who sheltered at the Naikhyangchari border area,” Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Mizanur Rahman told Arab News.
The committee comprises representatives of the RRRC, police, intelligence and the Bandarban district administration, who are verifying the identity of the group’s members amid a rise in cross-border crime and drug trafficking.
“We have to identify if there are any criminals or people wanted by law enforcement agencies,” Rahman said.
“Nothing is decided yet about the relocation or shelter of these people. But it’s for sure, there will be no more new camps for these people at their current location. They should be relocated to some other places. But the place is yet to be decided.”
According to Asif Munir, a migration expert and former official of the International Organization for Migration, the Rohingya are most likely to be relocated to Cox’s Bazar or to Bhasan Char — an island in the Bay of Bengal, where Bangladesh has moved 30,000 refugees since December 2020 to take pressure from other, already overcrowded camps.
“It is unprecedented in the world that hundreds of people have been living in no man’s land for more than five years ... these Rohingya were the last batch when the Rohingya exodus began in 2017. They have been living close to the Myanmar border.
“Since they entered Bangladesh territory, considering humanitarian grounds, there is no other option except sheltering them here,” Munir told Arab News.
“Since we have noticed several incidents of clashes between armed groups in the border area in recent times, it would endanger the lives of these people.”