Ex-foreign secretary warns of monsoon threat and calls for issue to be raised at G7 talks
Rohingya refugees prepare for the monsoon in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Photograph: Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Zuma Wire/Rex/Shutterstock
David Miliband has called on the international community to step up its support of Rohingya refugees in southern Bangladesh before the monsoon.
During a visit to the refugee camps, the former UK foreign secretary said the issue must be discussed at the G7 meeting in Quebec, Canada this week, saying there was “real fear” among the refugees about the rainy season
Miliband, the chief executive of the International Rescue Committee, said the positioning of the refugee camp would have serious implications during the monsoon.
“The first thing that strikes me is the sheer scale,” Miliband said. “Some 600,000 people in a camp, albeit one with subdivisions in it, is twice the size of the world’s largest refugee camp. The scale is huge. Secondly, I’ve never seen a refugee camp built on such uncertain territory.”
Humanitarian agencies are rushing to improve structures and roads in the hilly campsite. Massive deforestation occurred in the area as the refugees created shelters after fleeing from Myanmar during the crisis last summer, leading to a serious risk of floods and landslides in the camps.
“Until last year, this was a forest, dominated by elephants,” Miliband said. “It’s undulating terrain with soft soil and although it was dry yesterday, it immediately became obvious about the dangers in a monsoon situation.”
According to the UN, one in three health centres at the site could be at risk. There are also concerns that tracks through the camp could become impassible, which would lead to difficulties in distributing food. The refugees’ tents are built out of bamboo and tarpaulins, making them highly vulnerable in storms.
“There was real fear,” Miliband said. “Fear for relatives stuck in Myanmar, but also fear about the consequences of mudslides and landslides, never mind cyclones.”
Miliband praised the Bangladeshi government for allowing hundreds of thousands of refugees to cross its border last year, fleeing alleged war crimes in north Myanmar.
He said it was also important to support host communities who had been significantly affected by the influx of refugees.
Miliband told the Guardian: “The [local population] have seen inflation. They have seen the loss of their forestry. One person was talking to me about snakes that have come from the forest and are now a menace.
“So, I think it’s important for the G7 meeting to recognise that if it is going to address the refugee issue, it also has to address the host population issue too.
“The international sector needs to step up. The arrival of Sheikh Hasina, the [Bangladesh] prime minister, at the G7 meeting in Canada this week means that no one has any excuse for not recognising the scale of the crisis and stepping up to address it.”
(c) 2018 The Guardian