They want the government either to send the refugees back or spread them across country
The compassion of most of the locals in Ukhiya and Teknaf upazilas appear to have reached its limit, as many say, their lives were badly affected due to the lengthy stay of over 1.1 million persecuted Rohingya refugees, from neighbouring Rakhine state of Myanmar.
Their compassion, which was exemplary at the beginning of the exodus in late August of 2017, now seems to have turned into fury, which is occasionally expressed by the host community in the form of processions and human chains.
During visits to some parts the two upazilas, between Thursday and Saturday, the Dhaka Tribune came across quite a few people who expressed their fury, not only against the Rohingyas but also against the government, for what they called a “great mess.”
Talking to this correspondent, the people, without any exception, said they want the government either to send the Rohingyas back to Rakhine or spread them across the country.
Why would the people of Ukhiya and Teknaf bear take the load alone, they asked.
When contacted, senior government officials acknowledged the “negative feeling” among the host community, and said that they are doing all they can to keep the situation calm.
However, they could not come up with any solution in this regard.
“We can understand the inconvenience of the host community due to the lengthy presence of so many people. It is really tough for them because their lives have been affected one way or the other,” said Cox’s Bazar-based Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner, Abul Kalam.
“The government is trying to solve the problem to the best of its ability. But, you have to remember that the solution to this problem is not in the hands of the government alone,” he said.
When asked, several Rohingya refugees, including community leaders, said they are aware of the host community’s increasing negative feeling towards them, but they are helpless in this regard.
People belonging to the host community have mentioned problems like, significant price hike of essentials, scarcity of transports, traffic congestion, degradation of environment, including hill cutting, and deforestation, including manifold increase in house rent.
“Look, I have nothing against them (Rohingyas) personally. But, this crisis is creating problems for me and my family,” said Mohammad Rashed, a student of Ukhiya College.
“We were never familiar with traffic congestion. But, nowadays, I cannot reach my college in time,” he said, blaming the countless vehicles used by officials of different organizations serving the Rohingyas.
“Not long ago, we brought out processions and formed human chains demanding the end of our suffering. We will demonstrate again,” said Rashed.
Rafiquzzaman Mahmud, a shop owner, added: “My family and I remain tense until our children return home, because of the significant increase of cars on the roads.”
When reminded that 20% of the money available under the UN’s Joint Response Plan is for the host community, locals said they only hear about it, but are yet to receive any benefits.
The poor people of the community have been worst affected pursuant to these problems, they said.
Kamal Ahmed, an auto-rickshaw driver, said: “The fish I used to buy at Tk30 per kg, now costs Tk150. It’s the same with vegetables. This is because all these products are bought for the Rohingyas and people working for various organisations. I simply cannot afford the price.”
“The local labour market has also been affected. Earlier, a day labourer at paddy fields used to earn Tk700-800 a day. Now, Rohingyas come out of the camps, managing the police, and do our job for Tk250-300. The scenario is same with all other professions,” said Mohammad Ismail, another local.
Local tea stall owner Ripon chimed in: “Earlier, a person could rent a room for just Tk500. Now, the rent of that same room is Tk4,000.”
“When they (Rohingyas) arrived, we did everything possible for them. But now, people feel that they have had enough,” Rafiquzzaman said, welcoming the government’s plan to relocate 100,000 Rohingya refugees to Bhashan Char in Noakhali.