Bangladeshi farmer Jorina Katun stands among the Rohingya Muslims camped out on her land near the Kutapalong refugee camp in the Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh February 9, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew RC Marshall
By Clare Baldwin and Andrew R.C. Marshall
KUTUPALONG REFUGEE CAMP, Bangladesh (Reuters) – The first Rohingya refugees who arrived on Jorina Katun’s farmland in Bangladesh last year were worn out and traumatised after fleeing violence in neighbouring Myanmar. They wept and begged to stay, and Katun, moved by their plight, said yes.
“I really regret that,” she said. “They said they would stay for only a month. They’re still here and more are coming.” Katun now has 25 Rohingya families living on a patch of land where she used to grow rice and vegetables.
Since August, nearly 700,000 Rohingya have crossed from Myanmar’s Rakhine State into Bangladesh. Makeshift camps housing the Rohingya sprawl across thousands of acres of what was once a government forest reserve, butting up against – and sometimes overwhelming – Bangladeshi homes and land. Jorina Katun lives on the edge of the largest such camp.
Officials and aid workers fear that the welcome is wearing thin, due to the unprecedented number of refugees and growing doubts over whether Myanmar will ever take them back.
Repatriation was due to begin in January under an agreement signed by Myanmar and Bangladesh. But the plan has stalled due to safety and logistical concerns, and meanwhile Rohingya continue to flee across the border.
“We’ve accommodated them, but for how long?” said Kazi Abdur Rahman, a deputy district administrator in Cox’s Bazar. “Our crop fields are destroyed. Our forests are destroyed…It’s a huge impact for the whole community.”
So far, local people have been remarkably tolerant, with many feeling duty-bound to help fellow Muslims they see as being oppressed because of their religion. There have only been a handful of anti-Rohingya protest, all small and peaceful.
But many also blame the Rohingya for driving up food prices and stealing jobs, and officials worry that the refugees bring with them an increased risk of disease, militant activity and drug trafficking.