The forest department with the assistance of local administration and law enforcement agencies have started demolition of illegal Rohingya settlements in forests surrounding the tourist city of Cox’s Bazar, officials said. ‘We began the drive on June 4 when we demolished 51 dwellings illegally set up by Rohingyas and would continue the eviction and demolition of illegal structures scattered in the forest,’ Cox’s Bazar south forest division chief Md Ali Kabir told New Age. The forest department officials said they had conducted the drive at Madhuchhara in Ukhia upazila between 3:00am and 7:30am on June 4 on the recommendation of an intelligence agency. More than 400 personnel from police, Rapid Action Battalion, Border Guard Bangladesh and district administration joined the drive to demolish 50 Rohingya shelters built reportedly by a non- government organisation, said the officials. Ali Kabir said, ‘We do not want to let the people know where and when the next drive will be conducted but it will be conducted with the help of other agencies concerned.’ He said the shelters they had demolished were built by Muslim Aid. Muslim Aid UK’s Bangladesh field office country director Mohammad Obaidur Rahman, however, told New Age they had not built any shelters in Madhuchhara area and they had stopped all activities in Cox’s Bazar district since January this year. The Rohingyas, however, said they got the shelters in Madhuchhara Lambasiya with assistance of Rajapalong union council chairman Jahangir Kabir Chowdhury. Nazrul Islam, a middle-aged Rohingya day labourer, said he had lived in the settlement for two months but the sudden drive left him homeless. ‘I have nowhere to go,’ said Nazrul, who was born in Bangladesh with Rohingya ethnicity. After being evicted, he has taken shelter at a relative’s house in Kutupalang. Locals said the chairman verified the list of Rohingyas and allowed them to be settled there. But, Jahangir Kabir, also the upazila Awami League leader, denied his involvement in setting up the settlement. He also said, ‘I have no idea about the eviction.’ According to forest department, over five thousand hectares out of 44 thousand hectares forest land are currently occupied by different quarters. Of the five thousand hectares of occupied land, over 27 hundred hectares have been occupied allegedly by the stateless 2,325 Rohingya families, who are not documented by Bangladesh officially, according the forest department. Besides, two unregistered camps sheltered 60,000 Rohingya in Tekhnaf and Ukhia. ‘We will try to demolish only the structures built scatteredly in the areas,’ said the forest department official. When approached, Cox’s Bazar deputy commissioner Ali Hossain, however, claimed he had no information of the demolition of any Rohingya settlement. ‘Where did you get the information? You better verify your information,’ he said when he was asked why the shelters were demolished without any arrangement for their rehabilitation. Earlier, the government planned to relocate 32,713 of the documented Rohingyas, who have spent years in two registered refugee camps near the Myanmar border, to Hatiya island in the Bay of Bengal. The United Nations refugee agency has been assisting the refugees in the camps since 1991. An estimated one lakh Rohingya are currently living in different locations in Ukhiya and Tekhnaf forests. ‘We spotted a number of new settlements amid Rohingya influx,’ said Kabir adding that the forest lands were gradually being occupied. Border Guard Bangladesh statistics showed that 737 Myanmar nationals were barred from crossing into Bangladesh in May alone. The Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution by the Buddhist majority in Myanmar regularly cross into Bangladesh. A home ministry official told New Age on Tuesday that an intelligence agency had found that some Rohingyas had terror links which prompted a ‘large scale drive’ against the scattered settlements around Nayapara, Kutupalang in Ukhiya and Tekhnaf. Another home ministry official said that a recent meeting between India and Bangladesh had discussed the issue of Rohingyas crossing into India as at least five Rohingya terror suspects were arrested by the Indian police recently. ‘India expressed concern over the Rohingya issue,’ the official said.
Source: New Age