Bangladesh carving out forest land to shelter desperate Rohingya

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Bangladesh carving out forest land to shelter desperate Rohingya

Bangladesh carving out forest land to shelter desperate Rohingya: Hard-pressed to find space for a massive influx of Rohingya Muslim refugees, Bangladesh plans to chop down a swathe of forest to extend a tent city sheltering destitute families fleeing ethnic violence in neighboring Myanmar. More than half a million Rohingya have arrived from Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine since the end of August in what the United Nations has called the world’s fastest-developing refugee emergency.

 The exodus began after Myanmar security forces responded to Rohingya militants’ attacks on Aug. 25 by launching a brutal crackdown that the United Nations has denounced as ethnic cleansing.

Myanmar has rejected that accusation, insisting that the military action was needed to combat “terrorists” who had killed civilians and burnt villages.

But it has left Bangladesh and international humanitarian organizations counting the cost as they race to provide life-saving food, water and medical care for the displaced Rohingyas.

Simply finding enough empty ground to accommodate the refugees is a huge problem.

“The government allocated 2,000 acres when the number of refugees was nearly 400,000,” Mohammad Shah Kamal, Bangladesh’s secretary of disaster management and relief, told Reuters on Thursday.

 “Now that the numbers have gone up by more than 100,000 and people are still coming. So, the government has to allocate 1,000 acres (400 hectares) of forest land.”

Once all the trees are felled, aid workers plan to put up 150,000 tarpaulin shelters in their place.

Swamped by refugees, poor Bangladeshi villagers are faced with mounting hardships and worries, including the trafficking of illegal drugs, particularly methamphetamines, from Myanmar.

“The situation is very bad,” said Kazi Abdur Rahman, a senior official in the Bangladesh border district of Cox’s Bazar, where most of the Rohingya are settled.

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