By Meera Srivastava, Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director | CNN – Africa
A refugee camp of Rohingya Muslims on an island in Bangladesh, where homes have started to disintegrate as many attempt to flee violence in Rakhine State, is badly overcrowded and poses significant risks to health, the Red Cross said in a report Tuesday.
“What the Red Cross has observed is serious, widespread and systematic problems in Bangladesh,” said Ashley Lietz, the Red Cross country representative in Bangladesh.
“These have no humanitarian benefit to the population of Bangladesh, but instead are causing major health and safety problems.”
While the conditions at the Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar District in Bangladesh are far from ideal, Lietz said, international agencies have responsibility in assessing what is causing the problem, namely overcrowding and inadequate sanitation.
The report, which released in Geneva, focused on the Rohingya camp on the island of Herat, which is home to about 1,200 people.
“It is now a nine to ten kilometer (around five miles) walk from the main Kutupalong to the site of Herat,” said Lietz. “This has led to serious overcrowding and contamination of the wastewater, with disease rife in the camp, most notably cholera.”
Lietz said it was “quite alarming to observe the difference in temperature between the high camps where food is available and the low camps where water is not.”
“Thinking of the need to break down those camps, perhaps they all ought to be like Herat,” he said.
The report also found that refugees had to share boats for transportation from Herat to Chittagong. It described many migrants who began their journey with the assistance of smugglers, but were so poor they were denied boarding a boat because their UNHCR documents did not allow them to pay.
The International Organization for Migration, according to the report, tries to get a link between the documentation of migrants to their chances of reaching their destination.
The organization warned of “possible cholera outbreaks with bacteria known to thrive in water containing poor quality sediment and sediment not used for water provision.”
A CNN crew reporting from the Myanmar capital of Naypyidaw on Monday found fresh graves buried alongside roads, military presence and a militant group staging counter-attacks. Meanwhile, new refugees arrived by the hundreds daily.
The growing strain on the previously neglected island has also led to pressure on infrastructure, as Rohingya refugees began demanding clinics, schools and shelters that had not been provided.
Lietz called for the government to make the refugee camps “decent homes for our refugees, no longer a camp.”
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