COX'S BAZAR • Bangladesh yesterday announced it would build one of the world's biggest refugee camps to house the more than 800,000 Rohingya Muslims who have sought asylum from violence in Myanmar.
The arrival of more than half a million Rohingya Muslims from Buddhist-dominated Myanmar since Aug 25 has put an immense strain on camps in Bangladesh, where there are growing fears of a disease epidemic.
A Bangladeshi minister gave details of the mega camp as Myanmar's army blamed Rohingya militants for setting fire to houses in troubled Rakhine state in recent days to intensify the exodus of the Muslim minority across the border.
The hard-pressed Bangladeshi authorities plan to expand a refugee camp at Kutupalong, near the border town of Cox's Bazar, to accommodate all the Rohingya.
About 800ha of land next to the existing Kutupalong camp was set aside last month for the new Rohingya arrivals. But as the number of newcomers has exceeded 500,000, adding to 300,000 already in Bangladesh, another 405ha has been set aside for the new camp.
Mr Mofazzal Hossain Chowdhury Maya, Minister for Disaster Management and Relief, said all the Rohingya would eventually be moved from 23 camps along the border and other makeshift camps around Cox's Bazar to the new zone.
Area in hectares that has been set aside, in addition to the original 800ha, for the new camp in Bangladesh.
"All of those who are living in scattered places... would be brought into one place. That's why more land is needed. Slowly, all of them will come," the minister told AFP, adding that families were already moving to the new site, known as the Kutupalong Extension.
The refugee crisis erupted after the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army raids on Myanmar police posts on Aug 25 prompted a brutal military backlash.
The United Nations has said the Myanmar army campaign could be conducting "ethnic-cleansing", while military leaders have blamed the unrest on the Rohingya.
Meanwhile, the Bangladeshi authorities have destroyed about 20 boats that ferried fleeing Rohingya Muslims, accusing smugglers of using the exodus to bring methamphetamine into the country.
Refugees said that border guards also beat and arrested passengers and crew as they landed at Shah Porir Dwip, on the southern tip of Bangladesh on Tuesday night, before the vessels were smashed to pieces by locals.
The local commander of Border Guards Bangladesh, Lieutenant-Colonel Ariful Islam, denied that there were beatings, and said the action was a crackdown on human trafficking and the smuggling of methamphetamine, a drug known locally as "yaba".
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS