Tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who fled their homes amid the horrific violence in Myanmar to seek refuge in Bangladesh have been halted steps away from safety, trapped in a squalid stateless no-man’s land at the centre of a rapidly escalating humanitarian crisis.
Since late August, more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims and other minorities have chosen a bleak and uncertain future in a foreign land to escape what the United Nations has called a case of “textbook ethnic cleansing,” and “the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis.”
CTV’s Daniele Hamamdjian visited a congested camp inside Bangladesh, near the Myanmar border. It’s a place where sheets of plastic are often the only protection from the sun, monsoon rains turn the ground into thick mud, and disease and violence are an ever-present danger.
“This is zero line. You’re in a no-man’s land,” Lt. Col. Monzur Hasan Khan of the Bangladesh Border Guard said, gesturing to a single cement block on the ground, a makeshift border marker separating his country from Myanmar.
His border guard counterparts on the Myanmar side watch intently as the Bangladeshi officials survey the sprawling camp. They use a flag to signal that their patrol means no harm.
The Rohingya refugees have been living in no-man’s land for two months. Barbed wire surrounded by landmines ensures they don’t cross back into Myanmar, their native country.
Khan guided the first wave of Rohingya Muslims into Bangladesh, and has overseen every major border crossing since the crisis erupted on Aug. 25. But the sheer volume of new refugees arriving as the violence in Myanmar intensifies is rapidly overwhelming the resources of Bangladeshi authorities as the camp’s population swells.
A UNICEF report released last month suggests living conditions for the exiled Rohingya Muslims are worsening, especially for the 340,000 Rohingya children estimated to have fled the intense violence.
“The threat to young lives doesn’t end when they cross the border. Other dangers lurk in the disorderly setting of the camps, including traffickers and others looking to exploit and abuse the young and vulnerable,” the report stated. “The risk of this humanitarian crisis turning into a human catastrophe is all too real.”
Refugee Sade Kunnahar is allowed to leave the camp in no-man’s land during the day because of her medical needs. Her legs were amputated as a result of her escape from Myanmar, blown off as she crossed the border.
“I can’t move. I can’t eat. I can’t cook. I can’t do anything,” she said. “How do I keep living?”
Khan said the use of landmines against civilians is criminal, but such injuries are to be expected as the crisis continues to escalate.
With a report from CTV’s Daniele Hamamdjian