Rohingya refugee crisis threatens biodiversity of Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar

In this Jan. 22, 2018, file photo, Rohingya children and refugees raise their hands and shout that they won't go back to Myanmar during a demonstration at Kutupalong near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Cutting of firewood by Rohingya refugees in Cox's Bazar is putting great stress to the region's biodiversity, according to a report. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup, File)
Updated 03 June 2018

Rohingya refugee crisis threatens biodiversity of Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar

  • 2,000 hectares of forestland has disappeared due to refugees cutting trees for firewood
  • Bangladesh government plans to start reforestation once 1,00,000 refugees are shifted to the new island Bhashan Char (Floating island).

DHAKA: Some 2,000 hectares of forestland — equivalent to four football fields — around Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, has disappeared due to Rohingya refugees cutting trees for firewood, according to a report by the Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG).

It added that 86 percent of drinking-water wells have been contaminated with the E.coli bacteria from fecal matter.

Due to the “extreme level” of deforestation, the area’s biodiversity has been jeopardized, said Saiful Islam, assistant director of the environmental office in Cox’s Bazar.

The government will implement a reforestation plan once 100,000 Rohingya are relocated to Bhashan Char island in the Bay of Bengal, he added. “This relocation process is supposed to start very soon,” he said.

Hosting more than one million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar “has created extraordinary pressure on our resources, as the population of Cox’s Bazar has more than doubled in a short span of time,” Islam added.

Rakibul Amin, country manager for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), told Arab News: “Due to deforestation, the biodiversity of Cox’s Bazar is under severe threat.”

He added: “It has destroyed a popular corridor for wild elephants, increasing the number of man-animal encounters.” Some rare wildlife species are at risk due to the deforestation, he said.

Agricultural land near the refugee camps is facing siltation and contamination from fecal matter, according to the ISCG report.

Bishwajit Sen, an environmentalist in Cox’s Bazar, said: “This deforestation has made this coastal district more vulnerable to climate change.”

He added: “We should have done better and systematic management of the environment from the outset of the refugee crisis.”

To reduce dependence on firewood, some aid agencies have started arranging alternative fuel sources, the report said.

Flight attendant detained by immigration on return to US

Updated 23 min 27 sec ago

Flight attendant detained by immigration on return to US

  • Selene Saavedra Roma immigrated illegally to the US from Peru as a child and was later married to an American citizen
  • Enrolled in the government’s program for “Dreamers”, she flew to Mexico for work and was detained due to lack of valid document

WASHINGTON: A Texas flight attendant who was enrolled in the government’s program for “Dreamers” flew to Mexico for work and was stopped by immigration authorities who forced her to spend more than a month in detention, her attorney said.
Selene Saavedra Roman, 28, who immigrated illegally to the US as a child, was released Friday from a detention center in Conroe, Texas, according to a statement from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Originally from Peru and married to an American citizen, she raised concerns with Mesa Airlines about her immigration status after being assigned to an international flight, attorney Belinda Arroyo said.
The airline assured her she would be fine, but she was stopped by US authorities on Feb. 12, when she returned to Houston, and was sent to detention, where she remained for more than five weeks, Arroyo said.
Soon after her lawyer, her husband, the airline and a flight attendants’ group publicly demanded her release, Saavedra Roman called to tell her husband she was getting out.
“She was crying and she said, ‘Please come get me,’” her husband, David Watkins, told reporters.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the agency was looking into her status. Earlier, the agency said Saavedra Roman did not have a valid document to enter the country and was being detained while going through immigration court proceedings.
US Citizenship and Immigration Services — the agency that oversees the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA — declined to discuss the case. But the agency says on its website that participants who travel outside the country without a special document allowing them to do so are no longer covered by the program.
The agency no longer issues the document to the program’s enrollees, according to the website.
People enrolled in the program are commonly referred to as “Dreamers,” based on never-passed proposals in Congress called the DREAM Act.
The Trump administration sought to end the Obama-era program but was blocked by litigation. New applications have been halted, but renewals continue for hundreds of thousands of immigrants already enrolled.
In a joint statement with the Association of Flight Attendants, Mesa Airlines chief executive Jonathan Ornstein apologized to Saavedra Roman and asked US authorities to release her, arguing that it was unfair to continually detain someone “over something that is nothing more than an administrative error and a misunderstanding.”
“She should have never been advised that she could travel,” Arroyo said. “It was a big mistake.”
Saavedra Roman — who is scheduled to appear before an immigration judge in April — attended Texas A&M University, where she met her husband.
Watkins said he was not initially worried about her assignment because they already obtained approval from Citizenship and Immigration Services to apply for her green card as the wife of an American citizen. She has no criminal record and has long paid her taxes, he said, and she checked with her employer before the trip.
Then she was detained. He could visit her only once a week and could only see her through thick glass. She sounded hopeless, he said.
“I told her, ‘Even if you get deported to Peru, I’ll just go with you,’” he said to reporters. “Regardless of whatever happens in the future, I am not giving up. I am going to keep fighting.”
In a statement, the union representing Saavedra Roman and her colleagues said the event “highlights the urgency of commonsense immigration reform and resolution for America’s children who are part of DACA.”