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Influx of Rohingya refugees has changed Bangladesh community

Makeshift refugee camps are sprawling over southern Bangladesh, fields of suffering as more than 420,000 Rohingya Muslims flee violent attacks in their predominantly Buddhist homeland of Burma.

In a matter of weeks, thousands of temporary shelters have been erected in the Bangladesh district of Cox's Bazar.

Be fore-and-after satellite images show the dramatic change as the district struggles to cope with the exodus from Burma.

"Tents have sprung up all over the area. It's a dramatic expansion," said Stephen Wood, a senior imagery analyst at DigitalGlobe, which used high-resolution cameras in space to take photos of the camps.

One photo showed a long traffic jam of cars going through the area, possibly relief workers on their way in, or government workers trying to install water or shelter systems.

The images offer an expansive view of what journalists, government agencies and aid groups have been seeing firsthand.

Existing facilities are overwhelmed by streams of desperate families walking overland or clambering out of boats because they fear for their lives following attacks that some world leaders call ethnic cleansing.

Until now, the assumption was that the size of existing refugee camps had doubled in the past few weeks.

A September 16 satellite image of just one camp, Kutupalong, shows it stretched about 1.5 square miles, about four times its former size.

The landscape continues to change, however.

In recent days Bangladeshi officials have been ordering some refugees out of Kutupalong camp and into Balukhali camp, a few miles away.

DigitalGlobe's imagery showed that Balukhali has expanded dramatically as well.

The images did not capture every makeshift home, which some Rohingya do not need because they have been taken in by Bangladeshi families.

The United Nations has airlifted in thousands of shelters.

The large white plastic tarps, held up with metal tent poles, have no floors but do offer respite from the rain.

Other arrivals build bamboo structures and buy thin plastic sheeting at local markets to stay out of the rain.

Multiple families cluster under each of them, lacking food and cooking pots, blankets or even spare clothes.

The UN say, unlike formal refugee camps, these new sites lack drinking water, toilets, soap or buckets.

When Burma's civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi's party was elected in 2016 after more than five decades of military rule, the political shift offered a short, tense window of peace.

But that quickly ended as Ms Suu Kyi, a former political prisoner and champion of human rights, failed to protect Rohingya from violence.

Last year, military attacks set off by the killings of nine police officers at border posts prompted tens of thousands of Rohingya to flee into Bangladesh, and four new makeshift settlements formed.

Security forces responded to another wave of insurgent attacks late last month with a sweeping crackdown that drove hundreds of thousands more Rohingya from their homes, which in many cases were burned.

AP

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