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Bangladesh: On Track to Complete Barbed-Wire Fence Around Rohingya Camps by Mid-2021

2021-01-07 (Updated at 12:32 ET on 01-07-2021) -- Bangladeshi officials said Wednesday that the government's installation of barbed-wire fencing around Rohingya camps – to confine the stateless refugees from Myanmar to their settlements in Cox's Bazar – was almost complete and would be finished by June.

Authorities have completed nearly 80 percent of the controversial project to erect 142 kilometers (88 miles) of fencing around the sprawling refugee camps in Cox's Bazar district, according to information from officials.

The barbed-wire fence would keep the Rohingya safe and secure and would also deter their "criminal activities," Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said Wednesday.

The government launched the project in December 2019, saying it was needed to boost security and reduce crime in the border region next-door to Myanmar's Rakhine state. More than 1 million Rohingya refugees are sheltering at camps and settlements in southeastern Bangladesh.

"The Rohingya people have been fleeing from different camps. They have been spreading across the country, even though our law and enforcement agencies have been trying to stop them," Khan told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, after presiding over a Dhaka meeting of a committee on law and order at the refugee camps.

"They are refugees. They must live within the camps. They cannot go out. The government is building the barbed-wire fencing around the camps so that the Rohingya can stay inside the camps with safety and security," he said.

Khan said the fence would also prevent the refugees from participating in illegal activities.

"We at the meeting have discussed the criminal activities of the Rohingya. If the barbed-wire fencing is built, we can contain the criminal activities in and around the camps," the minister said.

The army has already put up 111 km (69 miles) of fencing around refugee camps in Ukhia and Teknaf, both sub-districts of Cox's Bazar, Home Ministry spokesman Sharif Mahmud said.

"The rest of the fence will be finished by June this year," Mahmud told BenarNews.

The committee also decided Wednesday that the government would set up a police station at Bhashan Char, a remote Bay of Bengal island where the government has relocated nearly 3,500 Rohingya refugees from mainland Cox's Bazar, Mahmud said.

Separately, a Rohingya photographer, Abul Kalam, who was arrested last week for suspected involvement in an attack on a local magistrate and a camp administrator in May 2020, was released from jail in Cox's Bazar on Wednesday after a court granted him bail two days earlier.

The photographer was arrested as he took pictures of fellow Rohingya boarding buses as they relocated to Bhashan Char.

On Wednesday, Kalam said he had not even heard of any assault on local officials last May.

"I feel happy after returning to my family members. But I am feeling insecure at this camp," he told BenarNews. "I was not tortured."

Fencing 'Counterproductive'

Most of the refugees live in 34 camps in Cox's Bazar, including more than 740,000 who escaped a brutal crackdown in Rakhine state that began in August 2017.

Restrictions like barbed-wire fencing are "counterproductive," could alienate the refugees and "set the stage for greater insecurity and conflict in southern Bangladesh," the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based NGO, said in a December 2019 report.

One refugee at a Cox's Bazar camp said he didn't mind a fence around the camps, but he did mind that some of his compatriots were being called criminals.

"We are grateful to Bangladesh for giving us refuge. We have nothing to say if the government builds barbed-wire fencing," Rahmat Ullah, a resident of Balukhali camp, told BenarNews.

"But the government should not think we are criminals. The Myanmar military has committed genocide against our community."

Rohingya illegally enter Malaysia from Indonesia

Meanwhile on Wednesday, authorities in Malaysia detained more than 30 Rohingya who entered the country illegally by boat from North Sumatra province in neighboring Indonesia, a police source told BenarNews.

The 35 Rohingya included 17 women, eight men, seven boys, and three girls, the source added.

"They are believed to have sailed from Bagan Asahan near Tanjung Balai in Medan, Indonesia. By the time they were apprehended, the boat they came in was long gone," said the police official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

Many of the nearly 400 Rohingya refugees who landed in Indonesia's Aceh province last June and September have family members in neighboring Malaysia, Rima Shah Putra, of humanitarian group Geutanyoe Foundation, told BenarNews.

Malaysia has always been the destination for them, Lilianne Fan, chairperson of the Rohingya Working Group for the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network, told BenarNews.

"All those who arrived in Aceh last year intended to come to Malaysia originally, because most of them have relatives there. They only ended up in Aceh because they were not allowed to disembark in Malaysia or Thailand," Fan said.

In Thailand, local media reported that immigration police on Monday had arrested 18 Rohingya in Bangkok who were illegally brought in from Rakhine state.

And in Myanmar, police arrested around 100 Rohingya on Wednesday after a raid at a residence in Yangon, police confirmed to the Reuters news agency.

Police didn't give a reason for the arrest, but Myanmar often detains Rohingya for "illegal travel" when they try to leave their home state of Rakhine, the agency said.

Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

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