GENEVA (AFP) - Elephants searching for food have trampled 10 Rohingya refugees to death in multiple incidents, the UN said on Tuesday (March 6), announcing a new plan to foster "safe coexistence" between animals and sprawling refugee settlements.
Some 700,000 people from Myanmar's Rohingya community have fled over the border to Bangladesh since August, following an army crackdown that the UN has said amounts to an ongoing campaign of "ethnic cleansing".
Refugee camps have shot up in Bangladesh's border area of Cox's Bazar, including Kutupalong which is now the largest refugee camp in the world.
Living conditions for refugees remain extremely difficult despite a growing international response, but the United Nations refugee agency said the threat from elephants had emerged as a new concern.
"The area now occupied by the Kutupalong refugee settlement has long been an important habitat for Asian Elephants. There are about 40 elephants in the area and they move between Bangladesh and Myanmar in search of food," the Geneva-based agency said in a statement.
"When wild elephants attempt to pass through the camp they inevitably come into contact with people, which is where the danger arises.
"Tragically 10 refugees have been killed by frightened elephants inside the settlements. Other people have been injured and lost the little property they had," the statement further said.
UNHCR announced it had formed a partnership with International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which has experience in Bangladesh helping people live alongside wild elephants.
The plan includes trainers who can teach refugees how to respond when an elephant approaches, including by detering it from entering the camp.
Myanmar and Bangladesh have announced provisional plans for the Rohingya - a mostly Muslim ethnic group - to return home to Myanmar's northern Rakhine state.
But rights groups and the UN have warned that conditions for their return are not close to being in place.