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Rohingya refugees face another relocation amid devastating fires, COVID outbreaks in camps

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The ongoing crisis in Myanmar 
    has had a devastating impact on one particular  
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    ethnic group, Rohingya refugees forced 
    to flee to cramped camps in Bangladesh,  
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    battling the coronavirus and now being 
    asked to relocate to a flood-prone island.
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    "NewsHour" special correspondent 
    Tania Rashid reports.
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    TANIA RASHID: What were once homes, 
    hospitals, and schools at the world's  
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    largest refugee camp burn to ash, as a massive 
    fire rips through these makeshift settlements.  
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    Fifteen people were killed, 400 missing, 
    and tens of thousands displaced.
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    Three years ago, the Rohingya, 
    a Muslim minority group,  
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    fled a bloody military crackdown launched by the 
    Myanmar military and police bordering Bangladesh.  
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    Mass killings, rapes, and arsons drove close to a 
    million into these sprawling camps in Cox's Bazar.
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    In a report published in 2019, U.N. investigators 
    warned of genocidal intent. The Myanmar army  
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    denies that, and claims, it only acted against 
    insurgent groups who attacked the police.  
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    But now these fires have uprooted 
    these Rohingyas' lives again.
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    Bangladesh authorities and aid agencies 
    have been providing emergency assistance  
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    to over 45,000 homeless refugees. Since December, 
    the Bangladeshi government has started moving more  
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    than 13,000 refugees from the overcrowded camps to 
    Bhasan Char, a remote island in the Bay of Bengal.
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    According to our local sources, the Bangladesh 
    government has offered those affected by the fires  
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    help with relocating there now. We 
    visited the low-lying plain in early 2017,  
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    back when it was just an undeveloped strip of 
    land. Experts on climate change deemed the land  
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    mass unlivable. But the government said it 
    would be better than the overcrowded camps.
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    In a promo video last year, the Bangladeshi 
    government claimed to have constructed dams,  
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    cyclone shelters, hospitals, mosques, and schools 
    to house 100,000 Rohingyas under safe conditions.
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    Sah-yed Noor said he would consider moving to the  
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    island to escape the poor living 
    conditions inside the camps.
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    SAH-YED NOOR, Refugee (through translator):  
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    I think that Bhasan Char can be better from 
    camp, because every apartment is made with brick.
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    TANIA RASHID: His 16-year-old niece, Fowzia 
    (ph), was sent to Bhasan Char last year by  
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    the Bangladeshi navy after being stranded at sea 
    for months when she tried to flee to Malaysia.
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    After several attempts to make contact with her,  
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    he gets her on the phone to check on her 
    situation. He's been concerned about her  
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    safety. She said she's not feeling well 
    and misses her family and wants to go home.
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    After hearing from Fowzia, Sah-yed 
    said he would only agree to relocate  
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    to Bhasan Char with his family, 
    so they can be reunited together.
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    These fires aren't the first ones to happen here. 
    There were two fires in the month of January,  
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    according to news reports. It is unclear why 
    the fires keep happening. But, as the Bangladesh  
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    government continues its investigations into the 
    cause of the fires, the Rohingya continue to live  
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    in crammed, unsanitary living conditions, making 
    them some of the most vulnerable to COVID-19.
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    Bangladesh has administered over three million 
    doses of the first vaccine to its citizens,  
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    and has initiated plans to include the Rohingyas 
    in its national vaccination drive. But so far,  
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    none have been vaccinated. For now, the strict 
    lockdown imposed by the government last year  
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    continues, with an 80 percent decrease 
    of humanitarian aid staff on the ground.
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    Essential services, including food and medical 
    supplies, have been allowed into the camps  
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    through specially arranged checkpoints 
    organized by the Bangladesh army.  
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    The U.N. Refugee Agency has teamed up 
    with the Bangladesh government to train  
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    1,500 community health workers inside the 
    camps to raise awareness about the virus.
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    Dr. Fahadin Aktar works in early 
    responsive care at the camp.
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    DR. FAHADIN AKTAR, U.N. Refugee 
    Agency (through translator): Here,  
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    first, we check their temperature. We 
    set up compulsory handwashing points,  
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    and all people must wash their hands 
    and maintain proper social distancing.
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    Before, five people sat together, but 
    now, in one seat, two people sit together  
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    with a barrier for social distancing. 
    And we make sure all patients wear masks.
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    TANIA RASHID: Despite the efforts, Dr. 
    Aktar says he's seen a sharp decline  
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    in the numbers of Rohingya patients. 
    Many are scared to go to the hospital.
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    DR. FAHADIN AKTAR (through translator): 
    Those with suspected symptoms are tested  
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    and quarantined. This has sparked fear among 
    the Rohingya, concerned that they could be  
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    sent somewhere else, separate from their 
    families, if they share their symptoms.
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    TANIA RASHID: The official numbers say there 
    have been only 400 confirmed COVID-19 cases  
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    and 10 related deaths at the camp. 
    Bangladesh authorities insist cases  
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    at the camps are increasing at a much slower rate 
    than global trends due to the enforced lockdown.
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    But the longing to go back home 
    remains for many of these refugees,  
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    despite the ongoing military coup back in 
    Myanmar. For weeks, tens of thousands of peaceful  
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    protesters have taken to the streets of major 
    cities, protesting the military's seized power.
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    In response, the police are 
    cracking down violently,  
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    with the bloodiest days this past weekend. Many 
    Rohingya activists we spoke with are hoping their  
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    support for the movement in Myanmar will be a 
    turning point in their on-going fight for justice,  
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    despite the lack of support from 
    ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi,  
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    who defended the military against 
    accusations of genocide in The Hague in 2019.
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    But the aftermath of the recent fires 
    have taken their lives for a drastic turn,  
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    as the place they sought refuge 
    has put them in limbo yet again.
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    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Tania Rashid.
  • 6:35 - 6:36
Title:
Rohingya refugees face another relocation amid devastating fires, COVID outbreaks in camps
Description:

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Video Language:
English
Team:
Amplifying Voices
Project:
Refugee Crisis and Solutions
Duration:
06:35

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