Thursday, October 12, 2017

Kutupalong Rohingya Asylum Camp in Bangladesh

I have joined Office of the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Office (RRRC), Cox’s Bazar on 4th of October. From my arrival in the tourist district, I have been visiting the border area near Gundum, Bandarban and Kutupalong, Thankhali Bazar, Shafiullah Kata, tv tower zone of Ukhiya Upazilla, Cox’s Bazar regularly, where the government of Bangladesh has temporarily allocated land for the Rohingya asylum seekers. Already more than 0.7 million Rohingya people have crossed the Myanmar border for seeking asylum in Bangladesh and around 3000 acres of forest land is fully occupied by these Myanmar citizens. Relief distribution work for these oppressed people is jointly performed by District Administration, Cox’s Bazar and Bangladesh Military. Temporary house building materials, Medical facilities, drinking water, sanitation services are rendered by Bangladesh government, UNHCR, WFP, IOM and many other government-nongovernment organizations. But the most incredible contribution is done by the general people of Bangladesh. They have come forward with immense help. Many house structures, adequate foods, clothes, daily essentials are donated by them and these donations have kept the situation under control. Without private assistance, it would be nearly impossible to provide with fundamental needs to these Rohingya people for such a long time.

My attachment in the RRRC office have turned into more rigorous and challenging from 8th of October when I received an office order mentioning that the Rohingya settlement area (3000 acres) need to be divided into 20 blocks and Md. Abul Kalam Azad sir of 24th BCS and I have been given the charge of block-6. The charter of duties, I have been assigned are quite long and most diversified that I ever tackled. We are provided with a print copy of map captured from google maps view, settlement block site numbers are written and pinned in the map. Our responsibility is to physically identify the pinned area of the map. Then an area of approximately 150 acres to be estimated surrounding the pinned spot of the map. This 150 acres of land to be demarcated considering the geographical features like hill, valley, canals (chara) etc. That means, if we consider a hill within our block area then any part of that hill should not be included in another block. Another challenge for the block demarcation is that, we cannot divide a community living in a specific area led by a Majhee (Majhee is a community leader who leads a community of 100-200 families of Rohingyas). Next big challenge is to find out space for connecting roads between adjacent blocks. It is to be mentioned that the area is already thronged with thousands of temporary settlements. Each block will have separate administrative tent, Police Barack, Ansar Camp, School, Community area, Mosque etc. We have to find space for them as well as have to ask assistance and give guidance to the foreign and non-government organizations to set up latrines, tube-wells, schools, medical camps etc. in our block considering the population density, availability of space, avoiding duplicity. Already, a lot of latrines and tube-wells are established by different organizations in the whole 3000 acres of land but there is no coordination among them. Most of the sanitation and medical services are near to the highway of Ukhiya-Teknaf. Because everybody wants to show-off their activities to mass people and donor agencies. Though Rohingya settlement has penetrated very deep into the barren land but many NGOs could not reach to that extent. But there are some exception also. Public health department, IOM have done excellent job. They have penetrated their services to the newer settlement areas far away from highway. Apart from the above mentioned responsibilities, we have to maintain law and order situation of our assigned block. In a nutshell, we have to establish a block/camp to oversee the security, discipline and to coordinate activities to ensure fundamental needs of the Rohingya community. It is like transforming an unplanned densely populated settlement into a planned and accessible settlement.

Now, there is no weekend. We have started our works. Block 6 is approximately 3 km away from road connectivity and Kutupalong registered camp. Our primary success is, we have physically found the pinned zone mentioned in the google map but could not demarcate our boundary of approximately 150 acres yet. We have identified 11 Majhees in our block who are leading 1702 families. The number will increase definitely. There are 17 tube-wells and 32 latrines in our primary assessed areas of block-6. The problem is latrines are becoming full very quickly because the NGOs who set those have provided only one or two rings to deposit the sludge. I have seen lot of flies today in some areas which is an alarming message. I presume, germs of diseases might spread out quickly. Another problem in our block is, no bath place for women. Since, Rohingyas are very conservative Muslim, veiled and shaded bath places for women are much needed establishment. Yesterday’s discussion with department of public health and IOM have seemed to be successful. Our blocks are going to get 5 more tube-wells and 5 latrines from public health department very soon. IOM assured to set some bath places and to provide some roof covers as some new families are suffering due to heavy rain. Among the non-government organizations, IOM seems very dedicated and sustainable in their mood of works. They are providing deep tube-wells which are 800 feet deep and they have established some latrines connected with bio-gas plant. We are searching for a suitable place for setting up a school. BRAC representative will come tomorrow. Some relocations of the settlement might be needed to accommodate brac school in the block.

Sharing few clicks from Rohingya temporary settlements in Ukhiya, Cox’s Bazar.