IV. NEW ARRIVALS
That the refugees do not wish to return to Burma is without doubt. As noted, their fears about the situation in their country of origin were heightened by the arrival of some 10,000 to 15,000 Rohingyas to Bangladesh in the first six months of 1997 who described increased forced labor, heavy taxation of Muslims and some instances of rape. This influx was almost an exact repeat of the events of the first six months of 1996.12 The UNHCR and NGOs are not formally permitted to have access to the new refugees, although in 1996 the UNHCR was able to interview some 600 new arrivals. Those who have relatives or close friends in the refugee camps sometimes try and live in the camps, sharing the food rations of their relatives. Médecins Sans Frontières reported in June 1997 that this practice had led to an increase in the numbers of malnourished children coming to their supplementary feeding centers, as it seemed that families were no longer feeding the children from their own rations. However, in many cases in 1996 and 1997, the Bangladesh authorities in the camps rooted out new arrivals from the camps and had them charged with illegal entry. By October 1996 there were an estimated 900 Rohingyas in Cox's Bazaar jail, a facility built to house one hundred, and NGOs reported that overcrowding led to the death of four inmates in September 1996. Neither the UNHCR nor any other international body was permitted access to those detained.13 Arrests of new arrivals in thecamps continued in 1997, although precise figures were not available. A BBC journalist reported that fourteen people were arrested by the so-called Camp-in-Charge, the camp commander, on June 17.
Those who do not enter the camps have hidden in jungle areas or in the slums around Cox's Bazaar, while some have traveled further afield in Bangladesh or abroad.14 Most try to eke out a living by sending their children to beg in the streets, working in the rice fields, or taking other jobs. According to those interviewed by Refugees International, Rohingyas generally received 40 takas per day, less than US$1, as opposed to the local rate of 100 to 120 takas. Local hostility towards the newcomers from Bangladesh day laborers, who see their jobs are taken and wages forced down, is high. Four Rohingya women who arrived by boat in June told the BBC that they were robbed and then raped by some local Bangladesh men on arrival near Teknaf.15 Some reported that the local authorities have sometimes given Rohingyas food in return for their departure from the area, while the unlucky ones have been forcibly pushed back across the land border into Burma. In May the commander of the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) in southeastern Cox's Bazaar district, Col. Wali Ullah, was quoted in the press as saying that several families who had tried to enter Bangladesh for "economic reasons" were immediately deported. He added that all boats crossing the Naf river, which marks the border with Burma, were also being checked by troops.16 In mid-June some 200 to 400 refugees were forcibly pushed back by the BDR.12 Some 10,000 refugees also arrived in the first six months of 1996. These figures are estimates based on reports by NGOs and journalists working in the area. The UNHCR gave figures of between 5,000 to 7,000 new arrivals in 1997 (press release, July 18, 1997), and in 1996 said that information had been gathered on "more than 2,000 persons." (Situation Update, September 1996). 13 Human Rights Watch/Asia was informed in November 1996 that there had been some discussions between the Bangladesh government and the International Committee of the Red Cross, but these appear to have been fruitless. 14 When Malaysia conducted a crackdown on illegal workers in March 1997, 8,000 Rohingyas were detained. 15 Frances Harrison, conversation with Human Rights Watch/Asia, June 23, 1997. 16 "Rohingya said to be Fleeing Famine," The Nation (Bangkok), May 11, 1997;"Bangladesh Tightens Security on Border with Burma," Agence France Press, April 5, 1997.