Over a million Rohingya refugees living in camps, Bangladesh says

A Rohingya refugee waits with others for food aid at Thankhali refugee camp in Bangladesh's Ukhia. Some of the refugees have been living in Bangladesh for many years, but the repatriation agreement only covers those who have arrived since October 2016. (AFP)
Updated 17 January 2018
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Over a million Rohingya refugees living in camps, Bangladesh says

COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh: Bangladesh has counted more than a million Rohingya refugees living in camps near the border with Myanmar, higher than previous estimates, the head of its registration project said Wednesday as preparations for their return got under way.
The Bangladesh army began biometric registering of the refugees last year after the latest mass influx of Rohingya from Myanmar, where the Muslim minority have faced decades of persecution.
The registration is aimed partly at aiding repatriation of the refugees — a controversial issue as most say they do not want to return.
Bangladesh says it wants to start sending them home next week and has reached an initial agreement with Myanmar to complete the process within two years.
“So far we’ve registered 1,004,742 Rohingya. They are given biometric registration cards,” said Saidur Rahman, a brigadier general with the Bangladesh army who heads the Rohingya registration project.
Several thousand more have yet to be registered, he said.
The figures are higher than those provided by the UN, which estimates there are 962,000 Rohingya living in southeast Bangladesh, near the Myanmar border.
That includes the 655,000 the UN estimates have entered the country since August 25, when the Myanmar military launched a violent crackdown in Rakhine state following attacks by Rohingya militants.
Doctors Without Borders has said at least 6,700 Rohingya Muslims were killed in the first month of the crackdown.
Refugees in Bangladesh have alleged mass rape and widespread arson at the hands of soldiers and the Buddhist majority in Rakhine.
Some of the refugees have been living in Bangladesh for many years, but the repatriation agreement only covers those who have arrived since October 2016.
The two sides said on Tuesday they have agreed to complete the repatriation within a two-year period, the first concrete timeline given for the refugees’ return.
On Wednesday a Bangladesh official said thousands of Rohingya stranded in no man’s land since the latest violence erupted would be among the first to return under the agreement with Myanmar.
“What we’ve proposed to them is that they start with some 6,500 who have been stranded for a long time in no man’s land,” said the official, who asked not to be named.
Rights groups and the UN have expressed serious reservations about starting the process, particularly as Rohingya are still fleeing Rakhine.
There are also questions marks over where returning refugees would live after many of their homes were burned to the ground.
“With memories of rape, killing and torture still fresh in the minds of Rohingya refugees, plans for their return to Myanmar are alarmingly premature,” James Gomez, Amnesty International’s regional director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said on Tuesday.
“The obfuscation and denials of the Myanmar authorities give no reason to hope that the rights of returning Rohingya would be protected, or that the reasons for their original flight no longer exist.”


Flood death toll in India’s Kerala jumps to 164

Updated 5 min 50 sec ago
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Flood death toll in India’s Kerala jumps to 164

  • More than 10,000 kilometers of roads and hundreds of homes have been destroyed or damaged across the state
  • A heavy rainfall “red-alert” has been issued across much of the state, which is home to around 33 million people

KOCHI: The death toll from major floods in India’s tourist hotspot Kerala has jumped to 164, state chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said Friday, issuing a fresh heavy rainfall warning for the battered region.

Kerala’s government has described the crisis — one of the worst in decades — as “extremely grave” and rescue operations are underway to help thousands who remain trapped by floodwaters.

“The chief minister has confirmed 164 deaths. Around 100 people died in the last 36 hours alone,” an official in the Kerala government’s public relations department said.

Local reports indicated an even higher toll with thousands still waiting for relief and rescue across the flood-ravaged state.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday said that he had discussed the flood situation with Vijayan as more troops and rescue workers were deployed across Kerala.

“Later this evening, I will be heading to Kerala to take stock of the unfortunate situation,” Modi said on Twitter.

The state, famed for its palm-lined beaches and tea plantations, is always pummeled by the annual monsoon but this year’s damage has been the most severe in almost a century.

More than 150,000 people made homeless across the state have moved into some 1,300 relief camps.

Vijayan’s office Friday posted a fresh warning for around 33 million residents of Kerala.

“Alert: all districts apart from Kasargod are under red alert... heavy rains may affect these 13 districts. Everyone please be cautious,” his office tweeted.

Even before the latest warning, locals like Ajo Varghese have been posting desperate appeals for relief and rescue on social media.

“My family and neighboring families are in trouble with flood in Pandanad nakkada area in Alappuzha,” Varghese said in a viral Facebook post.

“No water and food. Not able to communicate from afternoon. Mobile phones are not reachable and switch off. Please help... No rescue is available,” he added.

A state official said that apart from the new rainfall warnings, a breakdown of the local communication system was making it difficult for them to reach local people who may be in urgent need in the worst-affected areas.

The government says 10,000 kilometers (6,000 miles) of Kerala roads have been destroyed or damaged and tens of thousands of homes partially or completely damaged.

The gates of at least 34 major dams and reservoirs across the state have been opened in the last few days as water levels reached danger levels.

North and central Kerala has been worst-hit by the floods with the international airport in main city of Kochi shut until at least August 26.