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Monsoon season brings new peril for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

Many migrants have been living in flimsy accommodation since they fled persecution in Burma.

Rohingya Muslim men offer prayers in the rain at an extended area of Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh (Wong Maye-E/AP)
Rohingya Muslim men offer prayers in the rain at an extended area of Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh (Wong Maye-E/AP)

Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are now having to cope with the monsoon season following their escape from ethnic strife in Burma.

Many of the 900,000 Rohingya migrants live in ramshackle huts but most still believe it is too dangerous to return to their former homes across the border.

Their mass exodus from Burma came after that country’s military launched a crackdown against the Muslim minority group but downpours are making conditions tough for migrants living in flimsy accommodation, often made from bamboo, amid the constant threat of mudslides.

One refugee, Mustawkima, abandoned her first shelter when the soil washed away.

Rohingya refugees build new huts (Wong Maye-E/AP)

With five children under the age of eight, she wanted her new home to be close to relatives living at the base of the hill, so she erected a flimsy tarpaulin halfway up.

But when the rains began in June, the water quickly poured in, transforming her dirt floor into a muddy mess.

She says she hopes her relatives will protect her and her children when the worst of the rains arrive.

Rohingya refugees cross a newly-built bridge in the extended area of Kutupalong refugee camp (Wong Maye-E/AP)

The most intense rains are expected over the next few months, though heavy downpours began pummelling the camps in June.

There have already been more than 160 landslides, 30 people injured and one toddler killed, according to the Inter Sector Coordination Group, or ISCG, which oversees the aid agencies in the camps.

“Within 24 hours of the first rains falling, we were seeing small landslides and we were seeing flooding everywhere,” says Daphnee Cook, a spokeswoman for Save The Children.

The ferocity of the rains and the swiftness with which they can wreak havoc is stunning.

Rohingya refugees walk in the rain though Jamtoli refugee camp (Wong Maye-E/AP)

On a recent day, it took just minutes for a downpour to transform the face of another hill into a waterfall, with torrents of muddy water cascading down dirt steps.

Children are receiving identity bracelets in case they are separated from parents in the flooding.

Rohingya refugees carry construction material through huts (Wong Maye-E/AP)

Families have received extra materials to fortify their shelters.

Trenches have been dug to try and redirect floodwaters.

The topography of the camps is the biggest problem.

The trees that once covered the hills have been cut down to make room for shelters, and the roots dug up for firewood.

That process has dramatically loosened the soil, which the rains turn into heavy mud that slips down the hillsides, burying anything in its path.

The jagged scar on Mohamed Alom’s head is a grim reminder of the dangers of those landslides.

The 27-year-old was asleep in his shelter last month when a torrent of mud crashed through the plastic wall next to him.

Now, he and his family are among 13 people living in a one-room schoolhouse.

Mr Alom is hoping officials will help him build a new shelter.

A Rohingya child refugee carries an umbrella (Wong Maye-E/AP)

More than 200,000 people are living in areas considered at risk of landslides and flooding, according to the ISCG.

Around 34,000 refugees have been relocated to other areas, with some moving into sturdier shelters further away from the hills.

Hotiza Begum, 25, recently moved into one of the new shelters with her husband and five children after mud crashed through the roof of her old one.

Here, even if there's a landslide, at least we don't have to worry about the military Mohamed Alom, Rohingya refugee

Still, for many Rohingya refugees who have made it through mass killings, rapes and other abuse in a military crackdown, the fear of the monsoon is relative.

“In Burma, it’s scary because there’s no guarantee for our lives,” said Mr Alom, as the rain began to fall on the roof.

“Here, even if there’s a landslide, at least we don’t have to worry about the military.”



From Belfast Telegraph