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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
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    has had a devastating impact
    on one particular ethnic group,
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    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,
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    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,
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    launched by the Myanmar military
    and police bordering Bangladesh.
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    Mass killings, rapes, and arsons
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    drove close to a million
    into these sprawling camps in Cox's Bazar.
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    In a report published in 2019,
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    U.N. investigators warned
    of genocidal intent.
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    The Myanmar army denies that,
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    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.
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    Since December, the Bangladeshi government
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    has started moving more than 13,000
    refugees from the overcrowded camps
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    to Bhasan Char, a remote island
    in the Bay of Bengal.
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    According to our local sources,
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    the Bangladesh government has
    offered those affected by the fires
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    help with relocating there now.
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    We visited the low-lying plain
    in early 2017,
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    back when it was just
    an undeveloped strip of land.
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    Experts on climate change deemed
    the land mass unlivable.
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    But the government said, it would
    be better than the overcrowded camps.
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    (Local advertisement playing)
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    In a promo video last year,
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    the Bangladeshi government claimed
    to have constructed dams,
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    cyclone shelters, hospitals,
    mosques, and schools
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    to house 100,000 Rohingyas
    under safe conditions.
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    Sah-yed Noor said he would consider
    moving to the island
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    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,
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    because every apartment
    is made with brick.
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    TANIA RASHID: His 16-year-old
    niece, Fowzia (ph),
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    was sent to Bhasan Char last year
    by the Bangladeshi navy,
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    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.
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    He's been concerned about her safety.
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    She said she's not feeling well,
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    and misses her family,
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    and wants to go home.
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    After hearing from Fowzia,
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    Sah-yed said he would only agree,
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    to relocate to Bhasan Char with his family,
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    so they can be reunited together.
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    These fires,
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    aren't the first ones to happen here.
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    There were two fires,
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    in the month of January,
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    according to news reports.
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    It is unclear why the fires
    keep happening.
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    But, as the Bangladesh government,
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    continues its investigations,
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    into the cause of the fires,
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    the Rohingya continue to live,
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    in crammed, unsanitary living conditions,
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    making them some of the most vulnerable,
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    to COVID-19.
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    Bangladesh has administered,
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    over three million doses,
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    of the first vaccine to its citizens,
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    and has initiated plans,
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    to include the Rohingyas,
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    in its national vaccination drive.
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    But so far,
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    none have been vaccinated.
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    For now, the strict lockdown...
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    imposed by the government
    last year continues,
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    with an 80 percent decrease...
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    of humanitarian aid staff on the ground.
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    Essential services,
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    including food and medical supplies,
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    have been allowed into the camps,
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    through specially arranged checkpoints,
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    organized by the Bangladesh army.
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    The UN Refugee Agency...
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    has teamed up with
    the Bangladesh government
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    to train 1,500 community health workers...
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    inside the camps,
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    to raise awareness about the virus.
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    Dr. Fahadin Aktar...
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    works in early responsive care,
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    at the camp.
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    DR. FAHADIN AKTAR, UN Refugee Agency
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    (through translator): Here,
    first we check their temperature.
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    We set up compulsory handwashing points,
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    and all people must wash their hands,
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    and maintain proper social distancing.
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    Before, five people sat together,
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    but now, in one seat,
    two people sit together,
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    with a barrier for social distancing.
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    And we make sure
    all patients wear masks.
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    TANIA RASHID: Despite the efforts,
    Dr. Aktar says,
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    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.
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

English subtitles

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